Tenía diecinueve años a fines del verano de 1997 cuando mi abuelo materno enfermó repentinamente y murió. Tenía setenta y dos años. En solo cinco cortas pero agotadoras semanas, fue diagnosticado con una forma particularmente agresiva de cáncer pancreático, fue a cuidados paliativos, se negó y finalmente murió un martes a fines de agosto. Todo el asunto había sido bastante estresante y emocionalmente agotador, especialmente para mi madre, que había estado bastante cerca de él durante toda su vida. Lo más angustiante fue la velocidad con la que sucedió todo, apenas el tiempo suficiente para que él, su esposa distante o su única hija pusieran su casa en orden. negocios, y cuando finalmente perdió su batalla, muchos problemas quedaron sin resolver. El principal problema que tardó un tiempo en resolverse fue qué pasaría con sus pocas posesiones, un problema complicado por la naturaleza de lo que había dejado atrás. Fue profesor titular de antropología en la Universidad de Texas en Austin, un hombre de cierta distinción académica como supe más tarde, que se especializó en Estudio de las culturas nativas americanas, y dejó un verdadero tesoro de material académico y documentos históricos. El motivo por el que nos los dejó a nosotros está más allá de mí, ya que sería mejor si estos documentos fueran entregados a la universidad para que los usaran sus antiguos colegas, pero en ese momento pensé que era solo un vigilancia por su parte.
Yo mismo he quedado bastante abrumado por la pérdida, a pesar de que me he alejado del lado de mi madre a lo largo de los años. Estos no eran asuntos personales, sino simplemente una cuestión de distancia; él vivía en Texas y nuestra familia vivía en los suburbios de Denver, y los años habían ofrecido pocas oportunidades para visitarlo o conocerlo. Sin embargo, estaba mucho más cerca de él cuando era niño cuando lo visitábamos con más frecuencia, y me gusta pensar que fue él quien inspiró mi propia pasión por la ciencia. humano y social. En el momento de su muerte, acababa de completar mi primer año de universidad en la Universidad de Colorado en Boulder y me estaba preparando para comenzar mi segundo año, mi principal opción era la antropología, como mi abuelo. . Avancemos un poco más de veinte años, y yo mismo soy profesor de antropología en mi alma mater, aunque mi área de especialización es en las culturas de Mississippian en Mississippian. Era precolombina, cuando estudiaba a los pueblos de Nuevo México y Arizona. Hasta entonces, había olvidado en gran medida la cantidad de material escolar que nos había dejado, ya que recolectaban principalmente polvo en el ático de mis padres, aunque se donaron piezas a la escuela. universidad a lo largo de los años. Fue solo durante las vacaciones, cuando visité a mis padres, que recordé algo sobre ellos, y siendo yo un académico, me di cuenta de cuánto preciosos objetos históricos pueden ser preciosos. Por curiosidad intelectual, y en busca de un posible sujeto de investigación para un artículo que estaba preparando, tomé posesión de estos materiales para mi uso personal.
Los documentos se guardaban en un cofre de madera grabado bastante antiguo, algunos de los cuales eran notas de investigación de mi abuelo, mientras que otros eran una colección de libros antiguos e informes censales que datan de la década de 1870. Pero lo más intrigante del grupo fue el diario encuadernado en cuero, en el que se insertó una serie de anotaciones escritas por mi abuelo durante su propia investigación. Fue este periódico el que despertó mi interés, incluso si era de una fuente más moderna de lo que implica mi área de especialización, pero yo 39, sin embargo, estaba interesado. El diario fue escrito por un hombre llamado Joseph Sheridan, el bisabuelo de mi abuelo, y este descubrimiento me entusiasmó de inmediato, aunque solo fuera por su importancia para la historia de nuestra familia. . Mi madre estaba muy interesada en la genealogía y en realidad mantenía un árbol genealógico bastante extenso, donde localicé a este misterioso Joseph Sheridan. Inmediatamente profundicé en la investigación sobre este hombre, a quien supe que, de hecho, era un agente de la Agencia Nacional de Detectives Pinkerton en la década de 1880, y de hecho era un hombre de 39, una cierta reputación. En 1880 se le atribuyó la captura de Miguel Canales, un jefe de bandidos que había aterrorizado el sur de Texas durante varios años antes, y en 1884 le disparó y mató a un ladrón de ganado y un ladrón de ganado. 39; Utah nombró a Lawrence "Red" Cobb, ganando un bono de $ 150 en el proceso. Siendo un amante del Viejo Oeste, estaba muy emocionado de encontrarla y comencé a leer su periódico.
Pasé la semana siguiente leyendo la portada del periódico para cubrirlo, y ahora que lo he terminado, no estoy seguro de que sienta lo mismo. De hecho, no estoy seguro de cómo me siento al haberlo leído. Puede ser cliché decir que lo lamento, pero de una manera extraña, incluso si no puedo lidiar con lo que está escrito allí, me alegra saberlo, incluso si siento algo de miedo. sobre lo que escribió verdad. En este diario, relata la búsqueda de un grupo de forajidos en Nuevo México, Arizona y México, que tuvo lugar a fines de 1889. Lo siguiente es algo tan extraño, tan retorcido y horrible que no estoy seguro de creer que todo esto sea cierto. Es completamente posible que sus escritos sean solo el producto de una mente perturbada, pero al leerlo y ver su sinceridad de primera mano, no puedo imaginar por qué podría fabricar algo. como extraño Han pasado algunas semanas desde que terminé de leerlo, y todavía no puedo decidir si lo creo o no, o qué podría significar. Creo que quizás ustedes, buenas personas, deberían leerlo por ustedes mismos y tomar sus propias decisiones. Me tomé la libertad de transcribir todo el periódico para que pudieras leerlo, con algunas pequeñas interrupciones aquí y allá, pero completamente conservado. Y así, supongo, aquí no pasa nada.
28 de julio de 1889
Tuve mi primera reunión con uno de los gerentes de la oficina de campo de Denver esta mañana, un hombre llamado J.M. Withers. Es cierto que no me gusta en absoluto. Más bien abrupto y desprovisto de cortesía profesional, pero breve y sucinto. Describe los detalles de la nueva y larga misión, estima dos meses de trabajo y un alto riesgo, pero dice que fui uno de los primeros en pensar en ello. Pensé que podría ser un intento incómodo de adulación, pero todavía estoy interesado. Ninguna obligación familiar de cuidar, tal vez la sobriedad y el aire fresco me harán bien. El trabajo paga cinco mil dólares al final, y también es una recompensa individual, no compartida entre los demás. Debo mencionar que el trabajo es una operación de cinco hombres, incluyéndome a mí, aunque el Sr. Withers no quiso decir a quién más se le ofreció. Afirma que los detalles específicos solo deben ser conocidos por los seleccionados para esta tarea. No me gusta tener detalles ocultos en absoluto, pero por cinco mil dólares, más gastos, un intercambio digno.
29 de julio de 1889
Me encontré con el Sr. Withers nuevamente. Todavía no me gusta De todos modos, dejé en claro que aceptaría, y él dio seguimiento a los detalles. Un equipo de cinco hombres, incluyéndome a mí, está persiguiendo a un sospechoso de varios asesinatos en Arkansas, los Territorios Indios y Texas. No ofreció más detalles que eso, sino que reveló un archivo que detalla al sospechoso y toda la información relevante. Afirma que la información en el archivo es solo para mis propios ojos, pero puedo revelar los detalles relevantes a los otros cuatro a mi discreción. Esta advertencia me pareció bastante extraña, ya que no estoy acostumbrado a este nivel de secreto, incluso con los Pinkertons. Revisaré el archivo más tarde, intentaré determinar por qué exactamente la identidad de este hombre se mantiene confidencial. ¿Quizás políticamente sensible? Debería guardar la especulación para más tarde.
1 de agosto de 1889
Las Vegas, territorio de Nuevo México
Lea el archivo completo en el tren de Denver. Miserable viaje en tren también. Todo ese dinero, y los Pinkertons no ahorrarán ni un centavo más de lo que necesitan para viajar, tuvieron que subirse a un automóvil bastante abarrotado. De todos modos, ahora me quedo en un hotel en Las Vegas, en el territorio de Nuevo México. En dos días, me reuniré con los demás, luego nos iremos a nuestra misión. El informe del archivo indica que el rastro de nuestro sospechoso parece conducir a un punto a pocos kilómetros al suroeste de aquí, donde reanudaremos la pista y la seguiremos donde sea que conduzca. Incluso en México, si el camino apuntara en esta dirección, incluso si estuviera claro que no podríamos depender de ningún apoyo oficial si fuera necesario.
1 de agosto de 1889, anexo
Las Vegas, siempre
Todavía tengo un poco de tiempo para esperar mientras espero a mis camaradas en esta misión, por lo que he estudiado con más detalle a quién perseguimos o por qué la emergencia que requirió una salida repentina. Continuar por el desierto a la altura de la temporada de verano me parece bastante estúpido, pero si lo entiendo correctamente, la urgencia es tan grande y el riesgo de perder el camino es tan convincente que se supone que debemos cruzar el desierto en medio de # 39, agosto. Withers y los demás dijeron poco sobre compartir información en el caso, aparte del hecho de que no se compartió con nadie fuera de nuestro grupo. Aún así, no dijeron nada acerca de documentar los detalles en nuestros escritos personales, por lo que escribiré algunos detalles aquí, para la posteridad, si nada más.
Nuestro sujeto es un hombre llamado Deacon Chogan, alias "Red Horse", "Pequot" y "Black Heron", entre otros. Incluso el primer nombre, Deacon Chogan, es una cuestión de conjeturas. Se cree que el sujeto tiene alrededor de cincuenta, quizás más, de ascendencia india, ya sea mestizo o un cuarto de raza, aunque se cree que se parece principalmente a un hombre blanco. El nombre dado fue determinado por un registro estudiantil en un seminario presbiteriano en Kentucky desde 1853, que determinaron que era el tema en cuestión. Hasta donde sabemos, esta es la única documentación oficial de su existencia. Se creía que había nacido en Nation Creek, aunque se desconoce su edad y su edad exacta. Un hombre de inclinaciones religiosas, aunque su nombre o fe exacta es desconocida o indocumentada.
Aparentemente vivió y viajó en los territorios indios durante gran parte de su vida. No hay antecedentes penales conocidos por el seudónimo diácono Chogan, aunque es posible que lo lleve bajo otros nombres. Incluso eso no se sabe claramente. Los informes de un movimiento religioso en las naciones Choctaw, Creek y Seminole citan a uno de sus alias, Red Horse, como la figura principal de una serie de disturbios en la región. Los crímenes entre indios en los territorios no siempre están bien documentados, pero la oficina de los alguaciles estadounidenses en Fort Smith ha especulado que estuvo involucrado en otros casos conocidos, posiblemente bajo un seudónimo desconocido. Lo describen como un individuo muy peligroso y traicionero que lidera un grupo de fanáticos religiosos con ideas afines. Si eso es cierto, puedo ver por qué están preocupados por su arresto, dadas las preocupaciones expresadas por el gobierno federal sobre los bailarines de fantasmas de Dakota. Sin embargo, aunque el tema se describe como una figura religiosa, nadie puede decir realmente que sabe algo sobre su fe profesada. Quizás algunas supersticiones nativas, o dada su educación cristiana, algo de un giro más bíblico. Se especula que puede ser una adoración al diablo de una forma u otra, que involucra sacrificios de animales e incluso humanos, al menos los rumores continúan. El tema era en gran parte desconocido hasta hace ocho meses, cuando fue nombrado sospechoso de varios asesinatos en Arkansas, luego vinculado provisionalmente a crímenes similares en Mississippi y tan lejos como Es eso en Georgia. Se dice que los asesinatos en cuestión fueron cometidos por varias personas además de nuestro principal sospechoso. Desafortunadamente, los informes en sí mismos no son claros sobre los detalles específicos o las circunstancias de los crímenes, aunque los informes revelan detalles bastante horripilantes. Mutilación grotesca, desgarro de los ojos, incluso referencia a desollar; otros describen símbolos extraños marcados en los restos y tótems inusuales que quedan en las instalaciones. Estos símbolos y tótems son la fuente de especulaciones sobre la participación de los nativos, aunque ninguno de los indios que formaron parte de la fuerza investigadora puede reconocerlos. Pero estaba claro, según los investigadores, que había una marca de ceremonia religiosa con respecto a estos asesinatos. El número total de víctimas se indica en 19, sin contar los crímenes que aún no se han vinculado definitivamente a nuestro sospechoso.
Estas horribles manifestaciones de violencia cuestionan la naturaleza de los hombres que las cometieron. Por lo poco que sabemos sobre esta figura del "diácono Chogan", sabemos aún menos sobre sus presuntos compatriotas. El registro es bastante exacto de que lo que sabemos o creemos acerca de estos hombres es puramente especulativo, y entre nuestras pautas está tratar de identificar a tantos hombres como sea posible. Hay rumores y especulaciones de que muchos seguidores de nuestro tema son hombres blancos, muchos de ascendencia posiblemente mixta, así como indios de sangre pura; También se supone que los negros liberados son parte de su número. Hasta el momento, la composición racial precisa del grupo aún se desconoce en gran medida, y de hecho no hay estimaciones precisas sobre el tamaño de este grupo, y algunos informes especulan cantidades variables que van de 15 a 100.
Pero lo más notable de todo esto es que pocos de estos detalles y suposiciones tienen fuentes claramente documentadas. Los informes policiales generalmente son documentos auténticos, que proporcionan información sobre la naturaleza de estos crímenes, pero otras declaraciones sobre la identidad, los motivos y los cómplices de nuestro sospechoso se hacen como declaraciones finales sin archivos o fuentes claras. Quien compiló este archivo fue descuidado o no entendió que todos los detalles posibles, incluso la fuente misma, son relevantes para dicha investigación. O tal vez hubo un motivo oculto para retener esta información. De todos modos, he estado escribiendo durante un tiempo, así que me detendré allí, revisaré el archivo más tarde e informaré sobre mis pensamientos posteriores.
3 de agosto de 1889
Las Vegas, territorio de Nuevo México
No hay entrada para ayer, nada destacable. Simplemente camine alrededor de la sala de estar y compre tapicería y suministros adicionales. Incluso comprando una botella de centeno para su propio suministro privado, no siempre puedo confiar en el agua. Lo que es más importante, mis camaradas de armas para esta misión acaban de llegar hoy a la ciudad y nos reunimos en la sala de estar para las presentaciones apropiadas. Además de mí, hay cuatro hombres que asumirán responsabilidades específicas para nuestro negocio. El primero era un hombre alto y robusto con una prominente barba roja llamada R.J. Hannigan, una persona muy jocosa y agradable con un buen humor contagioso. Él será nuestro experto designado en supervivencia en el desierto, quien mantendrá nuestras reservas de alimentos, o lo poco que podamos transportar sin un carro. El segundo fue nuestro luchador, que se encargará de nuestros caballos y arneses, un hombre llamado Wilfred Sharpe. Es más bien lo contrario de Hannigan, siendo un hombre muy malhumorado y fácilmente agitado que hizo muchas quejas de inmediato y no se ofreció a estrecharle la mano. El tercero es el rastreador, un tipo indio que solo lleva el nombre de "William", en lugar de un epíteto nativo más típico. Creo que es una secuencia o un seminole, aunque no he preguntado. Es un hombre estoico bastante tranquilo, como acostumbran a ser los indios, pero siempre proyecta un aire de competencia que me parece tranquilizador. Y finalmente es un agente colega como yo, llamado Henry Quinn. También me gusta, y aunque no es tan humorístico o cordial como Hannigan, sigue siendo muy agradable y escuchó atentamente nuestras conversaciones.
Casi de inmediato, el Sr. Hannigan comenzó a enseñarnos sobre tácticas de supervivencia en el desierto escarpado, y expresó mis aprensiones anteriores con respecto a la continuación de una fiesta en el desierto a mediados de mes. Agosto, estaba muy interesado en lo que tenía que decir. Según él, las temperaturas diurnas superarán sistemáticamente los 100 grados, pero como él señala, la situación no es muy diferente aquí en la ciudad, aparte del hecho de que tenemos fácil acceso a suministros y refugios. Vamos a comer a la ligera y dormir relativamente poco, y pasar la mayor cantidad de días en la silla de montar posible, para pasar un buen rato con el menor gasto posible de suministros y provisiones. Sharpe continuó respondiendo sus propias preguntas, y no parecía impresionado con las garantías de Hannigan, pero Hannigan se atiene a ellas. William parecía estar de acuerdo con Hannigan, o al menos no oponerse, al igual que Quinn. Si el calor es demasiado fuerte, dice, siempre puedes elegir descansar durante el día y viajar de noche para evitar lo peor. Admito que no sé mucho sobre la supervivencia en la naturaleza, pero confiaré en las recomendaciones de Hannigan.
Sharpe suministró nuestros caballos, que fueron enviados esta mañana en el tren. Recibí una yegua estándar de un cuarto de caballo, en realidad una potra bastante buena, bastante bien entrenada. Cualquiera que sea la renuencia de Sharpe sobre nosotros, tiene una gran habilidad con los caballos y rápidamente preparó nuestra tachuela y nuestras sillas de montar. Quinn proporcionó nuestras armas: un rifle de repetición Winchester y el ejército de acción única de Colt para cada uno de nosotros, todos compartidos en .44-40 por conveniencia, con docenas de proyectiles para cada uno de ellos. nosotros. Sin embargo, aunque aprecio tener el rifle, creo que me quedaré con mi revólver Colt Frontier de doble acción, incluso si necesita un cartucho diferente. Aún así, tener dos pistolas puede ser útil dependiendo de lo que encontremos. William se ha hecho cargo de nuestros mapas y nuestra brújula, y yo estaré a su lado para dirigir nuestra expedición. Debo admitir que mis aprensiones anteriores sobre mis camaradas pueden no haber sido bien fundadas. A fin de cuentas, no podría haber soñado con un equipo más competente.
5 de agosto de 1889
20-25 millas al suroeste de Las Vegas, territorio de Nuevo México
Primer día en la pista, 23 millas según mi estimación. Salí a las seis de la mañana, antes del peor calor, y estoy muy contento con nuestro ritmo. Anoche nos reunimos para cenar, ya que Hannigan nos aconsejó que intentáramos comer una gran comida antes de irnos, ya que no tendremos la oportunidad de comer mucho por un tiempo . Nos detuvimos a unas seis millas de nuestro primer destino, donde se supone que debemos volver a la pista. Pensé en avanzar en la fiesta en este punto durante el primer día, pero dadas las condiciones, decidí no presionarnos demasiado temprano ni a nosotros mismos ni a los caballos. Creo que los espíritus están relativamente altos, porque ahora hemos alcanzado la tarea en cuestión en lugar de toda esta espera insoportable. William el indio demostró ser un navegante muy competente y un rastreador. Hannigan está notablemente más tranquilo ahora que estamos en la pista, pero ha retomado su actitud agradable una vez que acampamos. Nos aconsejó mantener nuestra fogata a pocos metros de donde dormimos, para evitar revelar nuestra presencia en un país inestable. Suena bastante molesto, así que respondí diciendo que podríamos hacerlo más tarde, cuando estuviéramos más cerca de nuestra meta; él pareció estar de acuerdo.
Con respecto a nuestra misión, filtré algunos de los detalles relevantes a mis compañeros de clase hoy y me sorprendió que no aprendieran mucho más. Les dije el nombre de nuestro sospechoso, su descripción general, algunos de sus presuntos delitos y dónde ocurrieron, y les conté sobre la cantidad de hombres que lo seguirían. Curiosamente, todos parecían tomar la información con calma, haciendo algunas preguntas. Debe estar cansado de nuestro tiempo en la silla de montar. El país al sur de Las Vegas es bastante accidentado y escaso, pero las horas de la tarde todavía eran relativamente agradables. Hemos establecido un campamento en una pequeña colina a unos 300 metros del sendero, con una cierta cantidad de maleza que lo rodea, lo que esperamos disuada a todos los merodeadores hostiles por la noche. Los otros se están preparando para rendirse, porque saldremos mañana por la mañana para completar el próximo tramo de nuestro viaje. Ahora que la temperatura ha bajado, creo que puedo dormir cómodamente y tengo mucha confianza para los días que vienen.
6 de agosto de 1889
En algún lugar al sur del valle del río Pecos, territorio de Nuevo México
He dormido en el piso por varias noches en mi vida, pero nunca ha sido más agradable. Afortunadamente, algunos de los sonidos nocturnos en el desierto son bastante relajantes y propicios para dormir. Dicho esto, creo que mi sensación general de bienestar ha disminuido un poco desde ayer. Debo acostumbrarme ahora porque pasaremos varios días más en la pista. Sin embargo, un día bastante productivo. Nos despertamos al amanecer como se esperaba, y vimos que la colina en la que se instaló nuestro campamento daba a un pequeño valle con el río Pecos que lo atraviesa (al menos creo que es el Pecos , según nuestro menú). No noté el anochecer que se desvanecía anoche, aunque sabía que deberíamos acercarnos.
Llegamos al punto en el que se supone que debemos reanudar el camino a las nueve y media de la mañana, y al ver el área, al principio estaba bastante desanimado. El punto en el mapa resultó ser un pequeño acantilado con vistas a un arroyo al pie de una colina que William dice que se llama "Mesa Sola", y a su llegada parecía no haber signos evidentes de presencia humana Estaba frustrado porque no había empujado el día anterior, pero mirando hacia atrás, habríamos llegado aquí en la oscuridad y habríamos estado aún más en desventaja. Hay un pequeño rancho a unas dos millas al norte de aquí, y consideré ir allí para preguntar a los lugareños sobre cualquier evento extraño o viajeros notables, pero decidí en contra.
Sin embargo, no todo fue en vano. William y Hannigan inspeccionaron la escena y señalaron que quedaban pequeñas huellas, que habían sido cubiertas a toda prisa e imperfectamente. Este es un descubrimiento convincente, ya que significa que nuestra inteligencia previa parece ser algo precisa después de todo. Consideramos que las pistas podrían ser de otra parte, y no necesariamente nuestra carrera, pero la oscuridad de esta área y el hecho de que las pistas mostraban signos de estar deliberadamente cubiertas indicaban que Nuestras suposiciones anteriores eran correctas. William inmediatamente comenzó a seguir los pasos, por lo que nuestra búsqueda finalmente comenzó en serio.
7 de agosto de 1889
Dos millas al sur de un lugar llamado "Arroyo Calaveras", Nuevo México
Pasé la noche anterior reflexionando sobre algunos detalles que se han vuelto más evidentes ahora. Un pensamiento que siempre volvía a mi mente se refería a nuestra información anterior sobre cómo y dónde deberíamos localizar a nuestros sospechosos. Fue uno de esos detalles de la charla que no tenía una fuente real, pero que se afirmó con gran énfasis y resultó ser correcto. . Y ahora me pregunto, ¿cómo se les ocurrió exactamente esta inteligencia? Pensé en cómo nunca nos dijeron si otros antes que nosotros estaban siguiendo el rastro de Chogan; He reflexionado sobre cómo el informe ha utilizado el tiempo pasivo en relación con los intentos anteriores de seguirlo, y nunca he mencionado detalles sobre eso. De hecho, dado que el último informe final de sus crímenes tuvo lugar en el norte de Texas, me pregunto cómo podrían seguir con confianza dónde estaba en este preciso lugar. Podría discutir estos pensamientos con mis compañeros de clase más tarde.
Pasamos gran parte de ayer y hoy siguiendo una pista real, y nuestro ritmo se ha ralentizado considerablemente. Ahora, a menudo nos detenemos para buscar pistas y rastros, manejamos menos de diez millas por día. Parece que nuestra carrera ha tenido mucho cuidado en ocultar su muerte, pero no lo suficiente como para disuadir a un rastreador astuto. Actualmente, el sendero apunta al sur. Tengo sentimientos encontrados acerca de esto; Espero que el sendero pueda desviarse hacia el oeste, en lugar de potencialmente llevarnos a México, lo que espero evitar. Sin embargo, más al sur es un país más sedentario, lo cual es una buena noticia si necesitamos obtener más suministros, aunque no se trata de descansar. Intentamos comer y beber con moderación, a pesar del calor y los largos días, pero solo podemos tolerar algunas cosas. Hannigan, en particular, necesita mucha comida, porque el hombre mide probablemente seis pies y seis pulgadas y es bastante alto, y todavía necesita comida en su haber. Por ahora, hemos hecho nuestro campamento en el desierto, y tal vez mañana podamos discutir dónde encontrar suministros y si tenemos que preguntar a los lugareños.
9 de agosto de 1889
Cerca de "Estancia", Nuevo México
No he escrito en unos días, nada muy notable en ese momento. El sendero giró un poco hacia el oeste, para mi alivio. En la mañana debatimos el viaje al pueblo cercano, llamado "Estancia" en el mapa. Llegamos a un consenso de que al menos deberíamos tratar de encontrar una oportunidad de reposición, incluso si no estamos de acuerdo en entrevistar a los locales. Personalmente, estoy en contra, porque incluso si seguir el camino es lento y un trabajo agotador, no es probable que obtengamos información útil de los habitantes, y podríamos arriesgar el secreto de nuestra misión o incluso ser engañado por rumores locales. William y yo estamos de acuerdo, Hannigan es decididamente neutral, mientras que Quinn y Sharpe (especialmente Sharpe) están impacientes con nuestro progreso. Como líder de nuestro grupo, pedí a todos que se abstengan de interrogar a los locales. El pueblo de Estancia en sí es bastante patético, ya que es solo un pequeño puesto comercial. La tienda general local no estaba particularmente bien abastecida, pero encontramos más o menos lo que necesitábamos. Aparte de eso, nada realmente notable. Pasé el día pensando más en nuestra situación. Revelé otros detalles en el archivo a los demás, pero nuevamente, no parecían perturbados y formularon algunas preguntas. Ahora me pregunto si ya pueden conocer algunos de estos detalles. ¿Fueron informados individualmente de antemano? A través de mis órdenes me hicieron creer que estos hombres no estaban al tanto de los detalles y que era mi responsabilidad revelarlos si fuera necesario. Je ne peux pas dire avec certitude. Je suis plutôt épuisé, alors peut-être que mon humeur est affectée négativement. Le repos et la pincée de seigle pourraient me faire du bien – je me suis abstenu ces derniers jours, donc je pense que je l'ai mérité.
9 août 1889, addendum
Par Dieu, mais je suis un putain de dieu irrité par Sharpe! Je ne l’ai jamais exprimé auparavant, mais il ne cesse de croître depuis que nous avons quitté Las Vegas. Ses interjections, commentaires non sollicités et plaintes générales ont été une caractéristique constante de son entreprise, mais jusqu'à présent, je l'ai ignoré avec succès et refusant de m'engager avec lui a fonctionné pendant un certain temps. Mais maintenant, j'entends que cet imbécile est allé à l'encontre de mes ordres explicites et a interrogé les habitants sur les hommes que nous poursuivons. Il n'a pas compris que les locaux se méfient déjà de nous, un groupe d'étrangers dans ces régions qui se déplacent visiblement armés, et son interrogatoire pourrait jeter des soupçons sur nous. Nous pourrions nous retrouver la cible de la loi locale si nous ne faisons pas attention! Je lui ai fait savoir cela dans les termes les plus sévères possibles, et il boude depuis une heure, marmonnant à voix basse. Je vais le dire maintenant, si cette main stable glorifiée ne ferme pas sa bouche et ne s'en tient pas aux soins des chevaux, je vais le gifler la semaine prochaine. Je suis également assez ennuyé avec Quinn de ne pas avoir étouffé Sharpe pendant leur voyage en ville, mais Quinn semble vraiment repentant, donc j'éviterai de le contrarier. C'est tout, j'avais simplement besoin d'exprimer cela avant de déborder.
10 août 1889
Près d'Estancia, Nouveau-Mexique
J'écris cette entrée à midi, donc je serai brève. Je déteste désespérément l'admettre, mais il semble que le fou Sharpe ait réussi à découvrir quelque chose d'utile après tout. Pourtant, je ne peux pas lui concéder cela, cela ne ferait que l'encourager. Quoi qu'il en soit, il semble que les habitants aient signalé des étrangers inhabituels dans la région (en plus de nous, bien sûr), et leur description correspond non seulement à ce qui avait été spéculé dans le dossier, mais s'est également produite assez récemment, bien dans le délai établi par les rapports précédents. . Le propriétaire local du magasin général a mentionné un homme blanc qui avait passé quinze jours avant, qui était étrangement décoré pour un homme blanc. Il portait un mélange de vêtements américains et indiens, et quelques insignes arborant des totems étranges qui n'étaient pas reconnaissables, et avait même des marques étranges (peut-être des tatouages) autour de ses tempes. À cette époque, une jeune femme d'une ferme voisine aurait disparu et était toujours portée disparue au moment de notre décès. Sharpe a demandé des informations sur toute tentative de retrouver la jeune femme, et il a été dit que la seule preuve de sa localisation était une série inégale de traces de sang, supposée être la sienne, menant vers l'ouest. Je dois dire que c'est une découverte remarquable, mais- je ne doit pas concéder cela à Sharpe. Nous pouvons rester dans la zone pendant un court laps de temps pour envisager notre prochain déménagement et voir si ces informations concordent avec la piste que nous avons suivie.
13 août 1889
Dans les ruines d'une mission espagnole appelée Abo, Nouveau-Mexique
Je n'ai pas écrit depuis quelques jours, mais aujourd'hui, nous avons fait une découverte plutôt… inquiétante, et je devrais donc l'écrire maintenant. Nous avons perdu une journée et demie à débattre de notre plan exact sur la base des informations que nous avons découvertes à Estancia, et ce n'est qu'hier que nous avons finalement repris la piste. Il semble que mes craintes d'être mal dirigées par des renseignements erronés n'étaient pas entièrement justifiées, mais nous avons également débattu de l'opportunité d'enquêter sur l'histoire de la femme disparue, dans le vain espoir de découvrir un indice significatif. Je me suis fermement opposé à cela, tout comme Sharpe (enfin, un certain accord de sa part), bien que Quinn et Hannigan se soient montrés plus doux et plus inquiets. Cela a pris un peu de temps, mais finalement ils ont vu les choses à ma façon. Le retour sur le sentier a été un processus lent, car nous nous sommes arrêtés fréquemment pour examiner nos options pour suivre le sentier tout en tenant compte des informations que nous avons obtenues en ville. Nous avons continué plus au sud, puis à l'ouest sur de courtes distances, lorsque nous l'avons découvert. Nous ne nous attendions pas à trouver quoi que ce soit à cet endroit particulier, car nous n'avions gravi la colline que pour avoir une vue dominante du terrain et explorer un éventuel camping pour plus tard. Et en effet, nous avons trouvé les ruines d'un camp déjà là. Il était là, le feu de camp mort depuis longtemps, et un cadavre sans tête assis debout sur une bûche devant lui. Il était juste assis là, les mains sur les genoux, comme s'il écoutait attentivement un interlocuteur, une tache de sang abondante s'étant répandue de son cou sur sa poitrine. C'était un corps d'homme, entièrement vêtu, dans une sorte de costume qui ressemblait à des chiffons. Mais la caractéristique la plus étrange et troublante de la scène était le manque total d'activité dans la région. Le cadavre était clairement là depuis plusieurs jours, la peau étant devenue gris ardoise, mais pendant tout ce temps aucun animal n'avait dérangé la scène. Des coyotes ou des loups ne l'avaient manifestement pas ravagé, aucun vautour ne survolait au-dessus, aucun insecte n'explorait le site; il n’y avait même pas de mouches s’installant sur le cadavre. Cette découverte a fait taire notre groupe pendant un certain temps, et seul William est sorti de son étonnement et s'est avancé pour inspecter la scène. He actually dabbed some blood from the stump onto his finger and smelled it, as if had a distinctive odor. It was then that William pointed out the abnormal serenity of the scene.
Nobody spoke for a time, but when the spell broke, we openly asked one another what do next. William did not detect any trace of a trail at the site, and in fact we never did find the head. We searched all around the scene but came upon nothing. Quinn asked if we ought to report the obvious crime as soon as possible, and even broached the idea of turning back to Estancia. This I rejected, as we had wasted enough time already just getting this far, and I reminded him that we could report it at a later opportunity. Hannigan questioned if we should bury the body, but this I also rejected, because it would take too much time.
We left the scene as we found it and moved on to our next chosen destination, the ruins of a pueblo and old Spanish mission at a place called Abo. I spent the remainder of the trip thinking about that camp, and I do wonder if perhaps we ought to have done something about the body after all. Quinn, Hannigan and Sharpe have been uncharacteristically quiet since then, and I could tell they regretted leaving the remains of the poor devil, probably wondering if his loved ones knew what had become of him. We’ve settled in the ruins of the mission for the night; finally glad to spend a night under a roof, even one with so many holes. I’ve been rather irritated with others for past few days, but I think my attitude has finally softened towards them. And I think we can say for certain, we are certainly on the trail of quelque chose.
August 14th, 1889
In a village on the Rio Grande, New Mexico
We have finally reached a more settled region, at least more settled than that pitiful scrub land around Estancia, and we have decided to rest up a bit in a small village on the Rio Grande. I’ve heard the name one or twice since we’ve been here, but I didn’t quite understand it, nor could I hope to spell it, but I know roughly where it is. The settlers here are mostly Mexicans, whose ancestors lived here since the time this land was a Spanish domain. They were quite wary of us at first, given our ragged state and being openly armed, but they quickly came around and welcomed us. I must say, despite their initial suspicions, the Mexicans showed remarkable hospitality that outstrips any I have experienced anywhere. However, they remained wary of William, the Creek-Seminole fellow, who I suppose the Mexicans took for an Apache at first. They still have clear and none-too-pleasant memories of fighting the seemingly endless raids of the Apache going back well over a hundred years. This hamlet in which we found ourselves was mostly composed of family members, and the elderly patriarch invited us to share his home for evening and dine with them. I never told them our purpose for coming through their village, although some did ask. I simply told them we were tracking renegade Indians, to which they responded quite positively. For the first time in several days, we enjoyed a full meal with his extended family, enjoying the tasty cuisine he prepared for us: beans, a rich stew of pork and vegetables, even some peppers he had been saving. It was a welcome respite for us after so much hardship on the trail, and all of our spirits, even that irascible Sharpe, were greatly restored. We’ll pass the night here before heading out in the morning. I think I can sleep quite well here, with good food in my stomach and a roaring fire at my back. And then maybe I can forget where I am for a time.
August 15th, 1889
Socorro, New Mexico
The people of the village gave us a fond farewell upon our departure. They even gave us some extra provisions for our use, which I was all too grateful to accept. So far, we have followed the Rio Grande further south through the day, to a town called Socorro. I’m familiar with this town, though I am puzzled why we have come here, or why the trail has led south along such an obvious route where before it went through remote wilderness. I’ll have to keep a closer eye on my comrades, as they’ve shown remarkably poor judgment when they find themselves back in civilization after so long in the country. It was a relatively short ride from the village to Socorro, so we arrived in the mid afternoon. We might need some supplies, though thankfully not much, thanks to a previous gracious hosts. For now, I’ll find a hotel and see if I can sleep in an actual bed for the first time in nearly two weeks. Morale seems to have held strong, and I hope it will stay this way.
August 17th, 1889
Somewhere southwest of Socorro
Words cannot express my current fury. I just read my last two entries, and it still pains me how much my former sense of well-being has fallen since then. I am beyond enraged with my team, and I’m now wondering if perhaps their sheer idiocy the last few days may have ruined this entire mission. Two weeks trudging across New Mexico in the height of summer, all for nothing.
When I went to rest at a hotel in Socorro, I was expecting to have a bath and a quiet evening, perhaps a decent meal and few drinks at the saloon. Imagine my surprise when I awoke at three o’clock in the morning, having fallen asleep in the early evening before. It must have been the rain; I was rather looking forward to a sudden late summer tempest that moved in over town and brought some much-appreciated rain to the desert, and I must have fallen asleep listening to it. Instead, I awake to shouting, gunfire, and screams in the street, wondering just what was going on. I remained inside, looking cautiously out the window, pistol in hand, when I caught sight of the source of the ruckus. It was my team, all four of them, charging up and down the street, howling like Indians, firing their guns into the air and nearby windows, bottles in hand. I ran down as soon as possible and accosted them, wondering just what in the hell they got up to. I had to buffalo that idiot Sharpe to stand still and listen to me, and I even held my gun on Hannigan and Quinn, and William was seemingly nowhere to be found.
The rest I pieced from interrogating these damn fools after we bid a hasty retreat after a confrontation with the local constable. I hope to God that these idiots didn’t actually harm anybody, because we didn’t stay to see what came afterward. It turns out that my men had gone to the local saloon early in the evening, intending to relax and amuse themselves, when the drink got the better of them and they decided to try their luck at a card game with some locals. Drunk as they were, their foray went poorly and a brawl of some kind ensued, whereupon they went out into the streets, amusing themselves with wild gunfire and general revelry in chaos. They know for certain they severely beat a man in the saloon and assaulted several others, and Quinn admitted that he struck a lawman in the face with his pistol butt on their way out. We came upon William some ways outside of town, and he had apparently escaped the fracas by absconding over the rooftops, in possession of several bottles of whiskey. I was so angry when I saw those bottles that I threatened to shoot him if he didn’t toss every single one of them in the river.
I gave them as fierce a verbal lashing as I could, but still in their relatively drunken state, I can’t say how much of it stuck. But I could see them returning to their senses by mid morning, hopefully recounting the lurid details of their escapade made them ashamed enough to consider their behavior. Damn it all, I’m not a school headmaster, I should not have to do something like this! Undoubtedly we will have the local law searching for us, so for the time being, we shall head south as far the trail goes then deviate west. This of course assumes that our mission isn’t a bust, thanks to them.
August 20th, 1889
Unknown mountain west of Socorro, New Mexico
Again, I haven’t written in some days. There seems no point right now, but I suppose our progress, or lack thereof, still needs to be recorded. After our retreat from Socorro, we headed south for a brief spell, and then west and up into the foothills of a mountain just west of Socorro. We’re only a few miles from town, but we are relatively secluded here. Once again, our morale is quite low, low as it has been so far. After recovering from their drunken stupor, I think the men have mostly realized just what they did and how it could cost us dearly. Now, even though I am confident about disciplining them, I wish that I hadn’t scolded them like children. After all, these are mostly grown, rational men, and my anger has largely subsided. Quinn has been openly repentant about his actions, as is Hannigan, though he is mostly embarrassed and humiliated rather than genuinely sorrowful. Sharpe, as ever, is unrepentant, and seems to conceive of his behavior as some kind of rebellion against our situation instead of anyone in particular. I hope that fool doesn’t force me to do something rash to put him back in order.
I assume that their ill-advised rebellion was born from an insatiable desire for recreation after so long on the trail, although Quinn spoke to me earlier today, suggesting otherwise. I was resistant to the idea that their behavior was the product of anything but general irresponsibility, but Quinn’s story, if I believe it, has made me see it differently. Time on the trail was exhausting, he said, and they were in fact desperate to relax and forget their troubles, but for other reasons. He says that he and others are struck by a growing dread, a fear that has been growing all these weeks while pursuing our man. It was a strange, almost unaccountable kind of fear, whose source was not clear. And this intense dread had been shared amongst themselves all this time, growing precipitously, especially at times when supplies were short and days were long. Even the ever-stoic William was struck by this fear, even though he did a good job concealing it. I asked if it was a fear of what we were doing, about our mission and the men we sought. He says at first he couldn’t identify the source of the fear, that the early days of our expedition were relatively benign. What changed was what we found at the camp near Abo. The sight of that headless corpse sitting upright in the unnatural stillness around him cemented his fear, and that it severely perturbed the others as well. I admit, I felt a similar feeling after that moment, though I had dismissed the scene it as a savage but meaningless atrocity. That fear, said Quinn, motivated them to seek escape wherever they could, as if their drunken revelry was akin to some sort of last meal. This all struck me as odd yet strangely illuminating, I wonder now if it is true. I see now that I never really interacted closely with the others, never palavered with them, so perhaps it’s no surprise that their private fears were never apparent to me.
Another day or two, and I think we can safely rule out any sort of pursuit against us by the authorities in Socorro. We were in town only a few hours, and so it’s entirely possible that nobody there could conclusively identify us. I just hope the trail of our suspect hasn’t gone cold in the meantime. Whatever their fears, whatever nuestro fears, having come so far, seeing this thing through is all that makes sense anymore.
August 24th, 1889
Estimate 40 miles northwest of Las Cruces
Morale is still quite poor. I had hoped for an improvement after we left our hideout three days ago, though obviously in vain. We’ve kept a quite brisk pace the past few days, making over eighty miles in that time. It has taken some motivating to get these men to accept such a pace, though now I know the source their poor spirits I am a bit more sympathetic. Sharpe is complaining as usual, but he hasn’t changed much, which is actually a relief. The others are more concerning, particularly Hannigan, who has mostly abandoned his jocular demeanor. The trail is still continuing south, though it has deviated some ways from the Rio Grande. With spirits so poor, and many of supplies running short, I thought better of asking them about what they knew of our mission and situation. Perhaps it is just excessive suspicion on my part, but the question remains, and now I wonder if knowing about what we’re up against is the source of their fear. It’s even starting to affect me, though I mostly feel despondent about our apparent lack of progress. I might cease my journaling for a while. Whatever relief I feel when expressing myself in writing is more or less gone.
August 28th, 1889
Location unknown exactly. Somewhere near Arizona Territory boundary
I have been praying these past four days for a definite sign, any sign, any more of a trace of the men we’re after than whatever tracks and traces that William and Hannigan can divine from the dirt and mud across this awful desert. And today I got one. God have mercy, for my sins, I got what I asked for. Another dull day on the trail, nearing Arizona, I thought the monotony was getting to me, that horrible, caustic type of boredom I remember from my days in the Cavalry, waiting for a battle to erupt, fearing a Sioux brave waiting around every rock and tree on the plains… I’m rambling. Around three o’clock, we spotted men on the horizon, two of them, who seemed at first to be moving away from us. But as we continued forward, it seemed they were heading in the same direction, but would wait periodically for us to close the distance, then move again for a short time. It almost seemed like they were waiting in ambush, or luring us into ambush. Bandits, renegades, whatever they were, I didn’t care, it was something, after so much of nothing. It’s stupid, being so willing to thrust into an apparent ambush, but we did. My comrades must have felt the same, because they followed without hesitation.
We caught up with them after an hour or so. They weren’t at all what I expected, what little I expected. These men were fearful, desperate, even terrified of us. They were emaciated and pale, clothed in animal skins like cavemen, their hair shaved off. And I saw those scars on the sides of their heads, ugly, ragged scars that were still bright red. One of them was missing an ear. And they were terrified of us when we caught up to them, so scared they could hardly move. They weren’t visibly armed. Before we could ask them anything, once demanded in hysterics to know who we are, and the other chimed in, saying we were with them, whoever that was, and we couldn’t calm them. We could hardly even get a word in between their hysterical questions. The one asking started asking faster, louder, more shrill, and even our shouts in return couldn’t make ourselves understood. Before I knew what was happened, the other had pulled a great big horse pistol from nowhere a fire upon us. Gunfights are like that. They start and end so quickly. In a second, we pulled our pistols gunned down the both of them. We emptied our revolvers and just riddled them, and when that smoke cleared, both were sprawled in the dirt, one with his skull smashed open by a bullet, the other releasing a loud, rasping death rattle.
We leaped off our horses and immediately checked to make sure they were dead. The whole incident had transpired over the course of 45 seconds at most, and we still could hardly believe what had just happened. Both men were stone dead, as we saw. It was a minute or two before we realized that Quinn had been struck by one of their shots. The shot him in the hip and knocked him clear off his horse, and his groans went unnoticed for several seconds while processed what had happened. Sharpe was the first to come out of his astonishment and went to check on Quinn. As much as I hate Sharpe, he has a toughness in him that I never suspected. He knows something of medicine, and inspected the wound and applied pressure to it. By then, we had come around and did what we could to assist Sharpe. The wound is quite bad, he says, and the bullet likely struck the bone and shattered it. After nearly a month of following an endless trail, pursuing a dangerous criminal, and now, in a matter of seconds, one of our companions has been lost. Quinn is not dead, and won’t die soon, but we are far from anywhere civilized, and the man may lose his leg this grievous wound. We have few medical supplies, many of which are for horses, not men.
But Quinn has put on a brave face. I always rather liked him, and now I have to admire the manful way he is bearing the pain, a strength beyond his years. He insists that we push on, even though we tell him we can turn back, bring him someplace where he be treated; he has earned that, at least. He insists, and says that we can bring him someplace along the way, but that he does not want to impede us. Secretly, I am relieved that insists we push forward, because it is all that can do anymore, in spite of everything. And despite our grim situation, we have a clue, a clue of the kind we haven’t seen in weeks; the slain men bear strange markings about their heads, they have bizarre totems carved into their backs, the animal skins, those strange mutilations across their scalps. It can’t possibly be anything else. It has be connected to our man, this Deacon Chogan, Red Horse, Pequot, or Black Heron, or whatever they call him. For weeks, he hasn’t even seemed real. All he’s been is faint markings in the dust and dirt, a headless corpse around a campfire, veritable road to nowhere of scattered blood trails. And now, he is real. I’m not cracking up. I feel it indelibly in my gut that something is happening. I prayed for a sign when I thought I would die in dirt for nothing. God as my witness, I got one. And God have mercy on me, it may cost young Henry Quinn his life.
August 29th, 1889
Near territorial boundary of Arizona and New Mexico
I am writing this in the morning. It has taken me nearly an hour to accept what has just happened. I was lying before, I think now I might actually be cracking up. Sharpe has been ranting and raving for an hour now. Hannigan just seems sick, he won’t meet anyone’s eyes or even respond. Sharpe has been yelling at him intermittently this whole time, and William is just staring off the west at nothing in particular.
We set up camp and bedded down for the night not far from where Quinn was shot. We thought he should rest after what happened, to brace for a long journey ahead with awful would in his right hip. I never thought I could sleep with everything that was going on, but sometime in night, while I stared blankly at the stars, it came. I awoke when I heard Hannigan and Sharpe shouting frantically around the perimeter of our camp, calling Quinn’s name. Quinn was missing. Somehow in the night he had slipped away from our camp, how exactly I can’t say. We should have noticed if his groans of pain had suddenly disappeared. He couldn’t have walked in his condition, much less get far enough to be out of sight. And then I noticed that horrendous stench, an incredibly foul miasma that seemed to permeate the entire camp. Quinn’s bedroll was lumped together, with all of his supplies and weapons gone, but his horse and saddle were still there. I joined Hannigan and Sharpe in calling for Quinn while William scoured the edge of the camp, searching for whatever trace could be found. Hannigan went over and checked Quinn’s bedroll, and that’s where he found it. He made this horrible gasp when he unwrapped the bedroll that immediately got all of us to pay attention. That bedroll was the source of the stench, and we saw why. Inside the roll was pile of organs and innards, lumped together like the offal in a slaughterhouse. The entrails were covered in faint splotches of blood and unidentifiable fluids, but there was no mistake that these were real entrails, in Quinn’s bedroll, and we couldn’t account for where Quinn was. The thought that occurred to us in these moments paralyzed us. Sharpe immediately said it couldn’t be him, no one could say what kind of entrails these were, all we know is that we found it in Quinn’s bedroll and that Quinn was missing. He has a resilient mind, I must admit. Nobody had suggested that whatever was in that bedroll estaba what was left of Quinn, but he gave voice to what all of us were thinking. And I couldn’t dispute him, but I can’t dismiss what we’re thinking. How could something like this be possible? How could he leave or be spirited away in the night without our noticing? How could that hideous pile of innards and gore suddenly appear within his bedroll? Sharpe has ceased his tirade finally. I have seen his many faces, but this is the first time I have seen him defeated. The once-jovial Hannigan is a shell of his former exuberance and good humor. William has just come back, and he seems frustrated, exhausted and defeated, just like Sharpe. I think they have come to the same conclusion. Our foe is very much real. Whatever became of Quinn can’t be anything other than his doing. I’ve read the dossier, I’ve seen the details of his crimes; that this Deacon Chogan, accused of 19 murders across three states and territories, is capable of such things, I have no doubt. Suddenly, I don’t think I want to know just what exactly happened to young Henry Quinn, a faithful, stalwart companion for only too short a time. What we found in that bedroll is anybody’s guess. But it won’t be mine.
September (?), 1889
Arizona, according to our map
I have not kept track of the precise date for several days. I imagine it must be September by now. We left what remained of Quinn at the campsite, still wrapped in his bedroll, taking his few supplies with us. His horse as well will remain with us as long as we can manage. Sharpe has taken responsibility for his saddle and tack. Quinn had no other personal belongings in his kit, or had them on his person when he disappeared. No journals, photographs, or even a small a bible. There was nothing I could bring back to his next of kin. Assuming I ever do notify his next of kin, I am not sure I could bring myself to tell the truth of what became of him, or what we assume to have happened to him. We have ridden all through the days since then, stopping rarely and keeping a brisk pace. Sharpe no longer seems concerned about pushing our horses too hard. I assume by now we must be well inside the Arizona Territory, and now we are heading south yet again. If the trail should lead down into Mexico itself, I shall not hesitate. My desire to see this thing through has overridden my feeble concerns about doing so.
The nights have been getting worse. Every night, without fail, the horses will become supremely agitated and Sharpe will spend well over and hour trying to calm them and prevent them from running off. Hannigan has finally come out the worst of his torpor, but his moods have been shifting wildly, and he swears blind that during the night he can hear strange sounds, like the call of wild animals in the distance, but like none he has ever heard before. I have never heard them myself, but in my state I can hardly focus on anything, much less notice anything beyond the perimeter of our camp.
My private reserve of whiskey has finally run out. I wonder how I will now get to sleep. We have been leaving our campfire lit throughout the night, in spite of risks. Not one of us can bear the thought of passing another night in darkness.
September 4th or 5th, 1889
Near the Mexican border
By God, I entendu those sounds that Hannigan has been warning us about. I heard them in the night coming from the south, directly in the path we are headed. And like Hannigan said, these weren’t any kind of animal call that I have ever heard, in this country or any other I have visited. It almost seemed that the noises came from the sky itself, rather than from some distant point on the horizon. It was like a deep, wavering howl, almost like a wounded animal, and despite its faint report it echoed definitively across the plains. Sharpe claims hasn’t heard them, but I saw everybody in camp become riveted in place when those echoes went out. He has heard them, I have no doubt.
We are coming close, I am sure of it. But now I wonder if it not them, but us that is being followed, or lured, to wherever our trail shall lead us. I wonder how long we have been followed; perhaps since the mission at Abo, or even before, when we discovered corpse at the camp near there. Or from Estancia, where we interrogated the locals, or maybe even from the very beginning. Hannigan is cracking up, William has hardly said a word for days, and despite Sharpe’s frequent denials, I know he is fraying at the edges as well. I have held my silence long enough. Before to long, I will confront them about what they know and do not know. I am starting to crack up myself, but there is no reason my comrades should be so forlorn unless they know something I don’t. Perhaps tomorrow, after another night of sounds and distant threats they will finally come around.
September 6th, 1889
yo savait there was something on that hill! Our camp the previous evening was set in a depression between two hills, one bare, the other with a small grove of cottonwoods surrounded by thickets of tall scrub brush set in its slopes. I spotted that gap in the thicket, like the entrance of a cave, but surrounded by creosote and low-hanging branches. I paid it no mind at first, all through that evening I was transfixed by that gap. Maybe there was a convenient spring to water the animals, or place to set up a secluded camp, but that wasn’t the reason I noticed it. This morning, only a few minutes ago, I finally worked up the nerve to investigate it, and I found something, something so terrible and edifying that whatever doubts I have had about our task are gone. I went into that gap in the thicket, where it was several yards deep, and I emerged in a small clearing overshadowed by those cottonwoods, when I found it.
Suspended by those low-hanging branches was an enormous totem, perhaps six feet across, hanging several feet over the clearing. And it was made of bones, animal bones, maybe some human bones as well, all arranged like spokes on a wheel, with feathers and animal skins. Around its border were mummified limbs, both animal and human, with a similarly mummified head of a goat at its crest, and a string of dried human skulls hanging down from the bottom. But those animal skins were the worst- they were fresh, some even still dripping blood. It can’t have been here more than a day or so. The message is unmistakable. We are most definitely closing in. Whether we are closing in on them, or if they are closing in on us, we shall soon find out.
September 6th, Addendum
I finally confronted these fools about whatever they have been hiding this whole time, and despite some early resistance, they finally spilled it.
I was right before, they were in fact individually briefed about what was going on. Each one had a copy of the very same dossier I was given, with subtle alterations to specific details. Each was told that they were the sole possessors of the information, and that the others would not know, and could only be told sparingly. But they found this out for themselves when I freely shared the details I was given, against orders. Why would the agency have done this? Do they expect none of us to come back? Is that what they actually espérer for? It’s the only reason I can think of. Each man believes only he knows what is going on, and when the others are lost or killed, he becomes the sole witness to what happened. But why tell us in the first place? No, I’ve answered my own question. If I had not known what was going on, I would have deserted this mission back in New Mexico. We have just enough information and reason to push on, and when each man believes only he knows the full story, he will have all the more reason to turn on each other or leave the others to die. They want as few witnesses to this operation as possible. This is only conjecture, but it is the only reason I can think of.
I’ll be keeping a much closer eye on these men from now on. The secret is out. I won’t have them turning on me or deserting us. They will see this thing through, I will make sure of it. That lingering, unnameable fear that Quinn told me about in Socorro is clear to me now. Mais ça Ne fera pas get the best of us.
September 7th, 1889
12 miles past the border, in Mexico
That miserable cur William has deserted us. Our designated tracker, the one who so capably led us across the wastes using nothing more than faint prints in the dust, a faithful and stalwart companion, has shown himself no more than a feckless, no-account coward. He stole away in the night, presumably while we slept, and was long gone by sunrise. He took with him his own horse and supplies and left few traces of his leaving. Hannigan will be taking over in his duties as the tracker, although his slow pace and reluctance to go on could impede us. It is no matter. His demeanor has hardly changed, even after the revelations of yesterday.
Sharpe turned Quinn’s horse loose this morning. Quinn’s supplies were long since exhausted, and the extra horse was no use to us any longer. He even broached the idea that we should turn all the horses loose, and continue on foot. When we reach wherever we are headed, will have no more use for them. I can’t say that I disagree. But we will press on further before doing so. And depending on what we find, a return journey may not be necessary.
September 10th, 1889
The Forest of Skins, in the Sierra Madre
We turned our horses loose yesterday, when we reached the foothills of the mountains. They lingered for a minute, and then bolted abruptly. Since then, we have moved further into the mountains when we reached It. Less 100 yards into the trees, we found our first definite signs of the men we are following. Animal skins nailed to trees, totems of sticks and bones. And at the edge of an arroyo, we saw a clear sign that we have been waiting for: a symbol, painted on a rock face, of a man with many arms and legs, and a head painted completely black, with narrow white slits for eyes. It was like a gatekeeper, for beyond that was what we have called the Forest of Skins. Dozens, even hundreds of skins, of animals and perhaps even humans, stuck to trees, draped over branches, pelts of animals of different species stitched together in horrible shapes. Every tree in sight is covered with them, and some are so fresh that they drip blood from overhead, like light drizzle of rain. I think I can see torches ahead in distance, deeper in the forest. We are Here. Je sais cela. Hannigan is on the verge of hysterics. Sharpe is bracing himself. Everything ahead of us is our Enemy. I’ve been so preoccupied with getting here that I haven’t even thought of how we should take our quarry alive or dead. But it will come to us. We are at the end, and our End will make itself clear. Deacon Chogan, alias Red Horse, alias Pequot, alias Black Heron, is finally at our door. …….
This is where the journal entries end, but not where the story of Joseph Sheridan ends. The second portion of his writings is much shorter, and was apparently written many years after the events he describes in his journal, in the year 1896. In it, he reveals just what happened in that forest in the Sierra Madre mountains of northern Mexico, in terms much more coherent than his earlier writings. He evidently survived the horrific ordeal, and returned to normal life a few years later, having spent many months in a sanitarium recuperating from happened. He left the United States for South America in 1898, settling in Argentina and living out the rest of his life. It is unknown when and where he eventually died, although he left behind his estranged wife and their young son.
Again, I’m quite sure what to think about what I read in that journal. It all seems so surreal, too strange to even be true, but I can’t imagine why Joe Sheridan would fabricate something so revolting and horrible. But the fact is, not long after this, he did indeed spend time in a sanitarium to recover from an extremely poor physical and mental state, which points to two possible conclusions. One, that his writings really are the product of a diseased mind, which led to his placement in the institution. But the other, more worrying possibility is that perhaps there is at least some amount of truth in what he wrote, and that his condition was a result of it. I have a hard time imagining a world where something like this is possible, but he seems so certain, especially in his recollections afterword, that it was all quite real. But I just don’t know, and I can’t say for certain. I suppose it is up to any readers to draw their own conclusions. What follows next is a transcript of his writings after the incident, in which he details what happened after the final entry in his journal. Perhaps you people can read it and draw better conclusions than mine.
It has been a full five years since my release from the institution, and the personal vow of silence I imposed upon myself has run its course. I have spent the years since those fateful months in 1889 rebuilding my courage and resolve to one day describe what happened, and the fate of my former comrades. Indeed, it is the memory of these men that has spurred on my desire come clean. Though we were companions for only a short time, and were not always on cordial terms, I feel a certain kinship with these men, not unlike that I forged with my former comrades during my time in the U.S. Cavalry. In fact, I daresay that there is some deeper bond with R.J. Hannigan, Henry Quinn, Wilfred Sharpe, and that stoic Indian William than any I felt before or since. We are victims all of a horror beyond reckoning, one that has thrown into question my own faith in the sanity of the world. But alas, I feel I owe them a certain debt, one that I intend to repay in their memory.
I was found in the village of Agua Prieta on the Mexican border in early November of 1889. My state, both physically and mentally, was one of profound deterioration, covered in strange wounds and scars, babbling nonsense, and completely naked. In only my bare skin, I wandered into the village in the wee hours of the morning, having walked a considerable distance through thirst, hunger, and inclement weather for several days and nights. The locals were naturally disturbed by my appearance, though their alarm became genuine concern and I was taken into the care of the local convent, where the Sisters helped restore me to some health. I am eternally grateful to those wonderful women, particularly Sister Mary Agnes, who ministrations were among the first to bring me out of my deranged state. A message was sent across the border, where evidently word was reached that I, Joseph Sheridan, was found alive, though not well, and within days I was retrieved from the care of nuns by my sister Meredith, in the company of two men from the agency.
Even before my convalescence in the institution in Colorado, those two agency brutes attempted to “debrief” me, even though my dismal state should have precluded any clumsy attempts at interrogation. Meredith, God bless her, came to my defense and saw to it that I was placed into better care and that I would be safe for a time from their prodding. I was in the institution for thirteen months, all the while frequently visited by Meredith and even my wife Eleanor, whom I have not seen for quite some time. She did not, however, bring our son, which I suppose is a small mercy given my state. The doctors and nurses at that institution treated me quite well, and with their treatment and kind considerations I am glad to say I made progress. But I have incurred some wounds that I believe shall never truly heal. In an interview with my primary doctor, I described my state as being one in which my mind and soul were shattered in many pieces, and though my recovery managed to meticulously pieced together again, it shall never again come together in its original shape. But, God willing, I will find the strength to push ever on, and make peace with my new self.
Almost immediately upon my release, I was recalled to the Denver office of the Pinkerton Agency for a thorough debriefing of the events of those fateful weeks in 1889. And I did give them thorough report, though the exact truths of what happened remained mine, and mine alone. I did indeed get their man, this Deacon Chogan fellow. But, as things turned out, I could not conclusively prove to them that I had. But my sincerity swayed them, and they could not deny the evident truths of my predicament, that I returned with a broken body and mind, a living testament to some horrific ordeal that they could scarcely fathom had I not corroborated it with my own words. Of the five men that departed Las Vegas, New Mexico that August seven years ago, only I remained, and only I can say what exactly became of most of them. The mystery of what happened to Quinn remains a mystery, but I am confident that he shall never be seen again. After that, I imposed that vow of silence upon myself, which I have maintained for five whole years until now. The act of conveying my tale to the Pinkertons so soon after my release was quite painful and trying. I have since left the agency, and I have moved back home to Ohio and found employment with my brother-in-law, Frederick, at his grocery store. I received the five thousand dollar reward I was promised, and despite my urging to offer the same reward to the next of kin of my compatriots, I cannot say if they ever received it. I reread my journal, which I had fortunately saved, making some private annotations about certain statements I made. My God, I can hardly believe just how fragile my mind was in the latter days of that time. But even then, I can distinctly remember how little truth I expressed about myself, like my feeble quotes about finding sobriety on the trail; I drank like fish that whole time, and had no business making a similar expectation of my comrades. Nor did I ever express that I indeed was struck by a dread, a mercurial fear, throughout the early days of that expedition, just as my fellows were. In these self criticisms I have found a reserve of strength to recount the latter half of my tale, and no matter what fears and reservations may come flooding back, I am committed to putting my memories to the page.
My last journal entry puts the three of us in what I called the Forest of Skins, which is precisely as it sounds and as I described those years ago. I knew that we were quite close to our intended goal, and I felt an insatiable desire to confront our man, and to see for my own eyes the men we had pursued through thick and thin these many weeks. When night fell in that ghastly forest, we were set upon by our enemies. For all this time, we had only ever heard rumors or seen faint traces of their passing, and it was only then that we laid eyes upon men who were formerly distant nightmares in our imaginations. They were more horrible than anything I expected. They were dressed entirely animal skins, from head to toe, strangely stitched together so nothing of human visage could be identified, not even a patch of skin. Those horrible, faceless demons, with bones and sticks in their hoods to resemble antlers or horns, descended upon us in near darkness and complete silence. They said not a word, no warnings or threats, as they appeared from all directions, hunched over like stalking animals, carrying primitive weapons, but in those numbers, we could not hope ward them off with our guns before they reached us. With knives, spears and clubs fashioned from wood and animal bones, they charged in with murderous intent. We had drawn our pistols and rifles, and with that horrible fear and icy feeling in our veins, we did not hesitate to pull those triggers. Encore, it did nothing. I know for a fact that our bullets struck home, yet our assailants did not drop, nor did they even react to being shot. With their speed, we had only seconds of fire before they came upon on us, and with great violence, they pummeled us without mercy, raining down blows on our hapless heads with their clubs and the blunt end of their spears. For many agonizing minutes that seemed as hours, we beaten without a sound from any of our foes, struck constantly without any regard for where their blows landed. In those moments, I felt the sting of failure, feeling that we come to our deaths and that our enemy would be victorious. Somewhere in those moments, I lost myself, thinking vaguely that I had just died, and that I was in those strange moments just before meeting my Maker.
But it was not the end. In spite that vicious beating, I and my comrades had only been rendered unconscious, badly injured, but still alive. As I awoke, I was strung up by my hands and feet in a strange position, in considerable pain from the beating and from the strain on my wrists and ankles. I was suspended face down a short ways above the ground by three ropes between a group of trees. My arms were pulled full span, and my ankles tied together and pulled painfully tight to a tree behind me. I was positioned almost like a man on a cross, though held up only by ropes, suspended like a marionette some four feet above the ground. It was still night, though this part of the forest was quite well lit, with many torches staked into the ground, and when I gathered the energy, I could look up to a degree. I saw, through a haze of blood in my eyes, that others were about, dressed in a manner similar to our assailants, regarding me in complete silence. I said nothing, but as I looked about I could not see my comrades anywhere.
I was held in this state, drifting in and out of consciousness, for a time whose length I cannot determine. It was twilight when I was finally cut down from my painful situation, and though I was not restrained, I had no energy to resist with more than feeble struggles. I was simply dragged through the forest by my arms and then roughly thrown down into the dirt, where I lay for some time before being grabbed again. I was raised to my knees, and it was only then that I realized that my captors had completely stripped off my clothes, except for some torn rags around my nether regions, and I was that I was in front of a roaring fire, facing a man completely cast in shadow by the bright flames. He was completely bald with no trace of beard, but had numerous patterns painted upon his scalp and face. He regarded me with cold, empty eyes that showed nothing but contempt for pitiful man before him. I could only stare blankly at his face, saying nothing. With a start, he brisk signaled the men restraining me to bring me to another spot. It was there that I saw what had become of my comrades.
William, the Indian tracker, was among them. Despite his best efforts to flee our desperate predicament, he had not evaded capture. Having come as far as he did, perhaps he was fated to be among us at the end of journey. His state was horrific beyond words, but I shall do my best. He was restrained to an X-shaped crucifix elevated above the ground, fully illuminated by the fire light. His head, like the others, was completely shaved of its long, flowing black hair, with numerous fresh lacerations made into the side of his skull, some of which still trickled blood. His eyes were wide open, with a haunted look and a trembling jaw that showed a man utterly broken. Across the front of his torso were even larger cuts and lacerations, some of which were stitched closed, with two main slashes in the shape of an X running from shoulder to hip. And his limbs… Good God, his limbs! They had been almost completely flayed, and in their place were a patchwork of animal skins sewn into his flesh. They held my face up to regard this horrific sight for several minutes, tugging on the skin of my forehead to keep my eyes open. They then lowered the cross with a violent drop, and William let out a brief, blood-curdling shriek that was utterly ignored by our captors. Still on the cross, he was dragged away into the dark forest out of my sight to God knows where.
By this point, the bravado with which I had pursued these men was completely gone. As they dragged William away, I went into a pitiful wail and felt my nerves utterly collapse. As I still wailed, the men once again dragged me off to another spot, a crude enclosure make of sticks, where I again came face-to-face with man from before. There was an alter in the center, and on it I recognized my friend Hannigan, who lay completely senseless and weak. He was still alive I saw, and over him stood that painted man, who glared at me balefully in the dim light. I saw then in the corner was Sharpe, in a state of shock not dissimilar to mine, and two men were at work trimming the hair from his head, shearing it off with a knife and then dry-scraping the scalp of any stubble, not caring if the blade sliced the skin. They forced my attention back at Hannigan, who lay completely incontinent and at this man’s mercy. He raised Hannigan’s head from the altar, and drawing out a long, thin instrument, he began to vigorously thrust it into Hannigan’s bare scalp. The poor devil began to come around as that horrible tool began to root around under his skin, and was soon making gasping cries of agony through his sluggish state. I know now the reason for the hideous markings about the scalps of the other victims. That horrible blade was pushed ever deeper into Hannigan’s head, and I was sure that it must have punctured his skull, and all the while his cries became screams, but he could do nothing, as this evil surgeon used his considerable strength to restrain the poor man.
In an instant, the screams stopped, and Hannigan’s head lolled over for me to look into his face. That look of abject horror remained, but his eyes were now black, darting back and forth without comprehension, and I could see that this horrible surgeon’s blade had gone completely through his head, just behind the temples. Then the blade was violently pulled out, and then the surgeon turned his attention to driving the blade into his victim’s chest, ripping a deep gouge that resembled those I had seen on William. I was rendered utterly speechless by this spectacle, but I could not look away. This dark figure splayed open Hannigan’s torso began rooting around without object, as if out of curiosity, occasionally plunging his tool into some unseen viscera. Hannigan was still alive, but could only make faint struggles against this horrific torture, and no sound would emanate from his mouth. But those eyes of his, those blank eyes, would still come alive for brief instants, and I would feel faint, but I could not lose myself.
Some time later, Hannigan was dragged off that altar, and Sharpe, whose preparations were apparently complete, was put in his place. But Sharpe, still is possession of his faculties, struggled with great force, crying and shouting at the top of his lungs, when the Surgeon grabbed the sides of his head and began to push his thumbs into Sharpe’s eyes. The cries became shrieks, and the pain had hobbled Sharpe long enough the Surgeon’s assistant could strike a vicious blow against the sides of Sharpe’s head, which stunned him. It was then that the Surgeon retrieved a horrible object, a mummified human head with no eyes that had been fashioned into some sort of chalice, with the liquid draining from its open mouth. They forced Sharpe’s mouth open and poured down his throat some hideous concoction that resembled dark blood, but which gave a sharp, acrid chemical odor similar to carbolic acid. Within moments, Sharpe was rendered as senseless as poor Hannigan before him, and this ghastly Surgeon repeated his horrific mutilations on Sharpe, but with great violence and force than with Hannigan. As before, Sharpe still showed some vestige of life behind his eyes, but that grievous wound to his brain had permanently stifled his struggles.
When the Surgeon completed his work, he came around the altar to look me close in the eyes, his hands almost completely slathered with fresh blood. Then he gave a cold, baleful smile, sneering in my face, even chuckled. The he quietly said, “Later on,” and briskly got to his feet and walked out. It was then that a tight, smothering rag was pulled over my head, starving me of breath, and as I was sure I would suffocate, I was struck over the head and left in blackness. I came back to my senses seconds later, and saw that I was being dragged away yet again to new place. I was quite afraid that I would again be strung up by those ropes, but I instead was dragged in front of a hole in the ground, looking into a small, covered dugout, into which I was pushed and left alone.
I was in utter shock as lay on that frigid sod floor of that dugout, unable to comprehend the meaning of what I had just witnessed. Those horrendous, meaningless mutilations, the apparent death of my comrades, the knowledge that I was likely next for such treatment, all of it imposed on my fragile mind and left me in complete despair. I remained like this for days, held in this filthy dugout that was so small that I could not stand up, and was forced to lie in my own wasted. One night I awoke to find myself being brusquely ripped out of the dugout and again dragged off and forced to face the Surgeon. I was convinced that my time on the altar had come, and knowing that the grotesque mutilations of the brain would not kill me but leave me to suffer, I was deathly afraid. Instead, I was brought again before this Surgeon, and to my utter horror, I saw that he was flanked on both sides by Hannigan and Sharpe. They stood their feet, though unsteadily, and swayed mildly while their blank eyes regarded me. They still had those terrible lacerations on their chests, with bits and pieces of animal hide stitched into their shoulders and arms, and the Surgeon leaned down to scrutinize me with that familiar dead glare. But to my further surprise, he ushered my guards back and leaned forward to whisper in my ear. I cannot remember his precise words, but I distinctly recall his cold, soft voice, and I recall what sort of things he told me. He said that humanity would not inherit the Earth, and that the world did not belong to the first men, or to men like us, nor would it belong to anybody that comes after. Instead, he said that the next men who rule the Earth would not be born, but made, fabricated out of the pieces of the old world. He claimed that he and his men were the parents of a New Order, that I and my comrades and countless others who suffered that horrible fate would be the children, and those we bore after us would inherit the Earth.
I could not fully understand what he meant, and for all I knew, it was the simply the ramblings of an insane man. But what he said next came with perfect clarity. In a soft, taunting voice he said, “You’ve found me”, and I realized then just who this diabolical “Surgeon” was. It was the man I sought, this Deacon Chogan and all his other aliases. I studied his face in the better light, trying to make out his features. At first glance, he did indeed seem to be white man, but on further examination he seemed to defy any firm classification of race. His skin was a very pale brown in the torch light, but his painted face made it difficult to define any exact features. He was not at all what I imagined, not the wizened sorcerer or hideous monster that I had pictured. With another brisk signal, his guards brought me to my feet and dragged in the direction of the altar. Having seen what became of Sharpe and Hannigan, I began to panic, despite my defeated state. But I was taken by complete surprise when I felt long, sharp object slide into my hands. I looked behind in confusion, and saw that Sharpe was following close behind us, and I could swear then that I saw a faint glimmer of human life in his eyes, and small nod touched his features. My panic turned to confusion, then determination; had I been granted a slim chance of escape? Had Sharpe, in his diminished state, had a brief resurgence of humanity and recognition? That feeling of hot-blooded determination that I felt in the days before our arrival returned to me. I had a chance again.
I was placed on my back upon the altar, presumably destined for same fate as Sharpe, William, and Hannigan. Chogan leaned over again, glaring into my face as he had done all of these times, and he gave evil grin as waved that horrible surgical instrument in front my eyes. His men restrained my arms, and once again he bore that head-chalice with foul elixir within. My force was forced open and the substance poured into my mouth. It was foul tasting beyond belief, as if some caustic chemical had been poured down my throat, mixed with blood. I saw what this foul stuff had done to Sharpe before, and so I thought I could fake swallowing it, but it was so foul that I spit it out into Chogan’s face. This absolutely enraged him, and for a man of his appearance, his rage very nearly drove me to panic again. Then he gave that distinct, evil smile, apparently intending to continue the procedure, even without this elixir to paralyze me. As I looked around, I saw Sharpe and Hannigan standing by my side, as if to guard me, but they were both glaring at Chogan, some of that spark of life having returned to their eyes. As Chogan raised his instrument to strike at my head, they acted.
With an enraged, animalistic cry, Sharpe and Hannigan struck at the two other men guarding the altar. They drew concealed knives, and with tremendous fury plunged them into the faces of their targets, drawing screams and dropping them where they stood. Chogan was briefly frozen with astonishment, and I seized my moment. I had hidden that long knife under the small of my back, and in one motion I drew it and regarded Chogan. For a moment, time slowed and saw his attention shift to me, with confusion and fury clouding his eyes, and after a brief hesitation I swiped that knife with all my strength. The slice caught him across his throat, completely ripping open the front of his neck, and a warm jet of blood pelted my face. He stumbled back, not understanding at first, and his eyes became incredulous at his state. He teetered back and, with his eyes still fixed on me, collapsed flat on his back, and lay still. As I saw this, I returned to my senses and realized I had been bellowing a loud and vicious war cry as struck him down.
I turned to turn and saw that Sharpe and Hannigan had already charged out into the camp, weapons in hand, striking with unbelievably speed and fury at other men who came to challenge them. They suffered numerous blows in return, being slashed and skewered, but they did not slow, hacking away at their foes with boundless fury. I turned to my heels and fled into the forest, heading whichever way I thought was north. But as I ran, I turned back to see my comrades, still fighting, surrounded by slain foes, and they began to succumb to their wounds, their bodies hideously torn, but not deterring them. With an energy that I never knew I possessed, I ran, sprinting with all my might in the direction from which we came. I must have been running for hours when I was finally drained of energy, and I was well clear of the forest, and could see no pursuers. It was early evening by now, but even in my exhausted state, I stayed on my feet, keeping a brisk trot to the north. The delayed sense of relief at being out of there finally came to me, and even in my dismal state, I exulted. Sharpe and Hannigan were surely dead, overwhelmed and mortally wounded as they were when I last saw them, but their fury and courage had given me my opportunity for escape.
It is here that my recollections fade. I only remember walking endlessly, with vague sense of time that seemed like the passage of days. I did not sleep, and rarely stopped to rest. It was in this state that I stumbled into the village of Agua Prieta, and rest of my tale I have already told. By now, it has taken me three days, and numerous stops, for me to completely write down my memories of the events of those horrible days. Now that it is out, I can already feel a certain relief coming on, even though I am quite drained emotionally. My recovery from this chapter of my life may never be quite complete. I do not expect the pain that still reoccurs to ever cease. I still bear the marks of the ordeal on body as well as my mind, with scars and marks from the beatings on my legs and back, and a strange symbol carved into flesh between my shoulder blades. I have never laid eyes on it myself, but I can feel the raised scar tissue and get a sense of the pattern it makes. My doctors in the institution have been quite skeptical of my story, or what little of it I told them, and even the scar on my back never convinced them, believing that did that myself in my fugue state.
I have come to some realizations over the past few years, about life, about human history, about our general place in the universe. When my ancestors came across the ocean to the Americas, they called it the New World, but this could hardly have been a more inappropriate title. The land beneath our feet is ancient, ancient beyond reckoning, and over the centuries it has swallowed whole countless generations of men. War, famine, disease, and the slow march of time drench this land in blood, and in process, changed the shape of men and beasts that roam it. I still ruminate on what Chogan told me in those fateful moments, about how mankind will not inherit the Earth, and I wonder if perhaps he was correct. Trains, telegraphs, and steamships have made the Earth somewhat smaller, brought distant corners closer together, but even the most remote and dark places on this planet, even a place like the Forest of Skins, are not truly different from any other spot on Earth. Every inch of it has feasted upon the flesh of all the poor beasts in Creation. I cannot escape it anywhere. In time I think I will travel elsewhere, perhaps South America, and find a corner of my own to fertilize one day. We follow blood trails all our lives, and on mine, if look hard enough, I think can even see the end of it, and the end of Joseph A. Sheridan.