By Matthew Bey
from Black Gate 13, copyright © 2009 by New Epoch Press. All rights Reserved.
Easy swung open the driver’s hatch and slid down the ladder onto the dirt. The mighty engine hissed and idled, venting steam every few seconds. A cool night wind blew through Easy’s crewcut, bringing a handful of mosquitoes that had gotten a jump on the rainy season.
She climbed the steps to the station office and straight-armed the door open. The corrugated tin slammed into the wall, waking the snapping turtle at the front desk. The old reptile was nearly as large as a steamwagon tire. Dried dirt and muck from last season’s rains still clung to his shell in places. A vase of over-priced beef-jerky sat on one corner of his desk next to a display of bubblegum and faded lottery tickets.
The turtle yawned a mouth like a bear-trap, and snapped snippishly, “What you want at this time of night?”
“Coal. Water. Why else would I be here?” Easy leaned her arms on his desk. “You doing business, or what?”
“Yeah, we’re doing business.” The station-master turned his head to regard her with a beady eye sunk deep in his skull. “You’re a witch.”
“Yup. You’re a genius, ain’tcha? How could you tell? It’s the hair, isn’t it?” She rubbed her crewcut sarcastically.
“You witches cutting it close. The rain’s going to start any day now.”
“We’ll get the load there on time.” The steamwagon’s trailer held over thirty tons of ice. Gonzo and Easy had to deliver it to the palace in time for the Patchwork Kingdom’s yearly ice-cream festival. “So is this a full-service station, or am I going to have to wrestle everything by hand?”
The turtle’s nostrils hissed in annoyance. As if he did her a favor, he bit a dangling hemp rope and pulled with a neck that was all gristle and tendons. A bell sounded at the back of the building. “It’ll just be a moment. Witch.”
The door to the back room opened and an ogre stepped out. He stood bent over, his shoulder blades brushing the low ceiling. He looked mongoloid even by ogre standards. A glob of slobber drooled over a grand total of three teeth. His bib overalls hung from a shoulder by a single fraying strap. He rubbed his hooded eyes. “What is it, boss?”
“A customer, Gillian. Go and fill up her rig.”
“Yeah, boss.” Gillian lumbered out the door, bumping into Easy in the process. The witch bounced off him, stumbling half a step. Easy had once bent a wheel spanner across the back of her neck, but the ogre gave the impression of vast physical strength that surpassed even hers.
The turtle clicked his beak at Easy. “While Gillian is servicing your vehicle, would you mind filling out the invoice forms?”
As the turtle opened the desk drawer, Easy caught sight of a sawed-off blunderbuss. She raised her eyebrow. “A little insecure there, sport?”
“You can never be too careful with all these witch-types on the wash,” he growled.
“Hey, I’m just a working Joe like you. I mean sure, I could pull you out of your shell like escargot, but how likely is it that you’ll piss me off that much, I mean really?”
The turtle dropped a quill onto the invoices. A beaded chain secured the writing device to the desk. “With that kind of an attitude you wonder why decent folks hate witches?”
Easy had finished page two, subsection ‘B’, when she heard the scream of something dying. Easy hadn’t heard that sound since she fought in the Soke Conflict. “What was that?”
The turtle’s head retracted into his shell, presenting his armor and his jaws to the world. “How should I know?”
Throwing down the quill, Easy rushed outside. She stood on the steps, searching for the source of the cry. She found it by her trailer’s rear axle, hulking at the edge of the light. A shape, ten-feet tall, thrashed in shadow.
“Who is that? What do you think you’re doing?” Easy ran toward it.
With a sound like an orchestra of castanets, the shape stood to its full height. It towered over the wagon driver, standing at fifteen feet. The huge, wooden head leered at her. A lurid grimace stretched from ear to ear. Jaws like vises clacked. From somewhere in its cavernous, clockwork belly, a phonograph played a recording. “Snip, snap, break their backs. Snip, Snap, break their backs. Snip, snap-”
As the thing regarded her in the orange glow of the station lamps, it occurred to Easy that it looked exactly like her aunt’s old nutcracker doll. Only the doll had been much smaller and not nearly as terrifying.
It wheeled suddenly, lurching into the darkness, its wooden feet kicking craters in the wash. The five-foot spring key sticking from its back rotated slowly clockwise.
“Who’s out there? Who is it?” The turtle had made it to the door of the station office, his shell barely fitting through the door. He craned his neck to its full length, swinging his thick head blindly.
Easy knelt in the dirt. The body of Gillian the ogre lay before her. She checked for a pulse at Gillian’s neck, but she knew she shouldn’t bother.
The wooden thing had chewed the ogre’s head to a pulp.
The complete version of “The Murder at Doty Station” appears in Black Gate 13.