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Chapter Eight

Woke up the next morning feelin' better than I had in weeks. Somethin' about sleepin' in a bed instead of a bedroll does a body a mort o' good, y'know? (Havin' a bathtub available don't hurt none, either, even without hot water.) Cass looked at me kinda funny while I was gettin' my shirt back on, after she got done with her morning ablutions. "Th' Hell are you wearing around your neck?" says she.

I touched the little leather pouch on a rawhide thong. "Called a gris-gris bag. My Grandmama made it for me. Ain't taken it off in years. Somethin' of a good luck charm." Little bit more than that, but I didn't feel like talkin' 'bout it just then - or ever. Looked out the window at the bright day outside, grabbed up my pack, said "Let's get movin'," just to forestall more questions. No such luck.

"You keep talking about your Granny and Grandmama; why the difference?" Cass asked.

"Well, the Clampetts and the Addamses may have married together, but the heads of both clans have traditionally been the eldest female for, shoot, long as anybody can remember. The Granny is the head of the Clampett side, and Grandmama the same for the Addamses. They gener'ly 'reign, not rule', though; they delegate day-to-day tasks, but when they choose, their word is *law*."

"Must be nice to have a big family," says Cass, kinda wistfully. "Just me and Mama, was really hard, 'specially when she got sick."

"Oh, don't get me wrong, we-all had our fights and people rub each other wrong all the time. There's a *reason* we opened up the Vault and got out soon's we could after the War. There was a *lot* of us in those caves, after all." Not that some of us, from both sides, ain't still down there, there's some of the Family that *like* it down in the dark and cold and damp. "But yeah, it's nice to know you've got people to watch your back, take up the slack when you get old or sick, that kind of thing."

'Bout then we got to the big tent in the middle of town where the locals had set up kind of a canteen for caravans comin' through, and they was powerful glad to see us and our caps. Business had been kinda, well, *nonexistent* since the caravans had been held up at the Outpost. The locals were glad to hear that they'd be startin' up again 'fore too long.

Found out from the little gal that ran the place that the local general store was up in the old gift shop, which was the room inside Dinky the Dinosaurs belly I'd noticed yesterday, run by a feller name of Cliff Briscoe. Headed over there soon's we finished breakfast. Big room, packed to the gills with all manner o' stuff, set of stairs leadin' up into the lizard's neck. Mr. Briscoe was a nice enough feller, managed to trade all the guns and ammo we'd picked up along the way and didn't need for a big bag of caps and some more ammo for our guns. He was pretty disappointed we weren't real interested in the touristy stuff he had, left over from before the War. I bought me a glow-in-the-dark rocket souvenir, from Repconn; sucker was still bright enough after two hundred years, I could use it as a reading light after dark. Didn't have much use for the rubber doll of Dinky, though.

'Bout the time we'd finished hagglin', a feller with a scoped, bolt-action rifle across his back and an NCR First Recon beret come in, nodded at Mr. Briscoe, and walked up some stairs in the back of the shop. Few seconds later, another feller with the same kinda hat and rifle come back down the stairs. The second feller was a bit younger, though, and the way he held himself ramrod-straight and didn't make eye contact with anybody, I figgered this was the town guard who'd lost his wife. He walked on out, and I looked kinda quizzical at Mr. Briscoe. "That's Boone. His wife run off, or so Jeannie May thinks, few weeks back. She come from New Vegas, and never was easy in her mind about living here." Hum. Two now that didn't really think about a pregnant woman "runnin' off" in the Mojave, that were old enough to know better.

We went on up the stairs, there was a little scenic overlook in Dinky's mouth...well, it was an overlook, anyway, no real "scenic" to be had there. The sniper fella on daywatch was named Manny; we got to talkin', he mentioned he and Carla had never gotten along. He and Boone had been a sniper/spotter team while they were in the Army, but quit after some kind of bad juju went down at a place up north called Bitter Springs. Turns out both of 'em had grown up in a raider gang called the Great Khans, and some kind of battle with the Khans had gone down there after they'd joined up. Manny was laid up sick and hadn't been there, and was chewin' nails about the fact that *nobody* would tell him what went down...especially the guy who was supposed to be his partner. Boone had been, well, as Manny put it, "haunted", since then. He'd married Carla on leave in Vegas after a whirlwind romance, and he and she and Manny had taken the good folk of Novac up on a job offer shortly after mustering out. Way Manny sounded, Carla started complainin' the minute she set foot outside the gates of Vegas and hadn't stopped 'til she vanished. She'd kinda driven a wedge between Boone and Manny, since Manny'd made no bones about his dislike for her. (Kinda got the feelin' Manny was carryin' a bit of an unrequited torch for his old partner, too, some of the things he said.)

Well, we headed out, found Boone sittin' by himself, far as he could get from anyone else, down at the canteen. He looked up at us, says "What do you want?" real angry-like. I says, quiet-like, "To find out why a pregnant woman with no supplies or weapons would run off to New Vegas from here, alone, when anyone with any sense at all would know she'd never make it."

"Sit down." We set. "She didn't run off. I know she didn't, and don't ask me how. Somebody here sold her out to the Legion, and I need help finding out who. You're not from here, you can get answers I can't."

"Well, I can see as how the perpetrator mightn't talk to you, but what makes you think they'll be freer with us?"

"They might not...but I've got no other choice. Everybody's too much 'oh, Boone's just too grief-stricken to see the truth' to tell me anything. Well, I *saw* the truth - now I've got nothing left." We told him the story we'd already got from Jeannie May and Cliff, and what I'd heard from No-Bark. "Huh. Hadn't heard about that, but No-Bark is crazy, so nobody really listens to him. How crazy is up for debate."

I checked my Pip-Boy, just to confirm the date. Just as I thought; the Feast of All Hallows was tomorrow. Hallow'een; the day the Veil Between the Worlds was thinnest. "Boone, have you...I don't know really how to ask this. Have you seen or heard from your wife since she...left?" He looked like I'd kicked him in the nuts. Cass looked at me like I'd grown two heads.

"How the fuck did you know that?!" Hmm. Cass was gonna give herself whiplash she kep' swivelin' her head like that. He composed himself. "Yeah. I hear her in my sleep, I *saw* her once in our room...I know she's trying to tell me something, but I don't know what. It's crazy, and it's driving *me* crazy."

"Well, tonight is the night. The dead will walk and speak with us, the living, and I know how to listen. Boone, can you get me some candles? Half dozen will do. I also need about a pound of salt. Cass, I gotta go out and get something, it may take me most the day to find it. Would you keep an eye on the bike and the room?" They both 'lowed as how they could, and I took off outta town. I needed to find me some cactus. I lucked out; over by the McBride's Brahmin pen, found me a field of little green lumps - Peyote cactus. While I was pickin' some, I tripped over somebody; *big* somebody who wasn't there. Oh, crap.

With an electrical noise, a nine-foot-tall Smurf on steroids with a Gatling minigun appeared out of nowhere. "Human! Why you wake me up!? Is it not enough that the angry two-heads keep me awake all night with their incessant screaming!? Leave me be! Gah! You keep me up, I should kill you, but I must save ammunition for the attacks of the battle cattle!" I looked at him, then the McBride's corral full of Brahmin (yup, angry two-headed cattle), then at the field of peyote cactus (yup, full of mescaline, which was why I was there), then at the Nightkin's pupils, which had shrunk to the size of purely theoretical particles. Crap crap crap. It was high as a kite. He looked at Eddie, and said "Ha ha! Funny robot make blinky sounds!" DING! An idea come to me.

"Blinky robot says he has quiet place where you can sleep. Will you follow blinky robot?" I remembered seein' a boarded-up house, just on the edge of town, thankfully *out* of the peyote field, and Eddie and I led the mutant to it. I kicked in the door, nice dark room, perfect. I let Smurf-boy in and he laid down and was asleep almost instantly. I left most of the food in my pack there for it, hopefully it wouldn't feel the need to graze on the cactus after this and would quietly leave town when it slept off the high. On the way back in to town, stopped at the McBrides' and let them know what I'd found. They goggled at me a bit, but thanked me; I told 'em to thank old No-Bark, who'd give me the first clue as to what was goin' on.

'Cross the street from the motel was an old gas station, where they apparently broke down scrap and such; I found a pot, some copper tubing, a pressure cooker, some coffee cups, and an old hot plate there. Perfect. Took 'em back to the room, and started cookin' a batch of mescaline. Wouldn't be as potent without dryin' the peyote buttons, but I was pressed for time, thus the still. I dug through my pack and got out a couple of the best packs of cigs and the rest of the jug of The Granny's rheumatiz medicine. I was set; now to wait until sundown.

**********

Sundown hit with an almost audible crash. Cass was gonna take Boone's spot as the town guard for the night; he left her his rifle, and climbed down outta the mouth of the dino, so nobody in the motel would see him leave. There were some old railroad tracks west of the town; perfect place for what we were about to do, even a crossroads going across 'em. I lit the candles, splashed out the whisky and tobacco into the coffee cups in lieu of proper offerin' bowls, and drew a nine-foot circle of salt around us for protection. I was invokin' Ogoun for our protection, but there was only one spirit I was plannin' on a-callin' up that night.

I give Boone a splash of the mescaline juice, and took one myself, to open the Inner Eye. "Spirits beyond the Veil, I entreat thee, this one has a worthy quest to avenge the passing of one who in life was called Carla Boone, and their unborn child. Send her forth, thet we might have converse with her." A hot, angry wind whipped up out of the South, and I sensed the spirits gatherin'. Rattlersnakes coiled up and formed a path outside the circle, and a black puma came and sat outside the circle across from me, looked me in the eyes, and screamed. Instantly the wind went silent. The puma looked over his shoulder, and slowly rose to his feet and stepped aside.

Slowly, up the path she came. White as a sheet, carryin' a bundle wrapped in her arms. I knowed instantly this was Carla. I cut an openin' in the circle to let her pass, and the puma come right in with her. A rattler big around as my thigh settled itself in to close the circle. Soon's she set foot in the circle, she was *there*, solid as you or I for a time. Boone stood, unable to speak, tears drippin' down his face. She put out a hand and touched his cheek, kissed him, and quietly said, "Craig. My love, now and forever. You did what you had to do; you saved us both from a fate worse than death. I, and our child, forgive you. Know that we shall meet again, in the fullness of Time." He fell to his knees, weeping, she rested a hand on his head and turned to me. "The one who betrayed us has done so to many others, travellers all, who they pledged to keep in comfort and safety. That one is a thief in the night, demon in human form, and their currency is human souls. Find what they keep safe, and you will have all the proof you need."

Carla stepped back, and the puma stepped right in front of Boone. Suddenly, the puma was gone, and in his place was a huge man, smelling of burned metal and honest sweat, naked to the waist and holdin' a huge sledgehammer as easily as if it were a child's toy. He reached out, and His other huge hand clamped down on Boone's shoulder, lifted him to his feet with no more effort than pickin' up a doll. Boone looked up into those deep green eyes and gave a start. Well, truth be told, it ain't every day you meet an Orisha face-to-face.

Ogoun spoke in a voice like the ringin' of a thousand anvils. "Boy. I know thou of old. Thou art one of Mine, warrior true of heart and keen of eye. Yet thou feel unclean, for the mistakes of thy commanders, for blood spilled that thou *could not have known* was innocent blood. Yet also, thou risked thine life for others, and released them from life when it was clear thou could not save them in any other way. Here is My judgement; return to thy *true* family. They *will* forgive thou, and welcome thou back, and not long from now, thou will be called on to stand by them and protect them with thy warrior's heart as they start on a terrible journey. They will pass through many hardships, and thy good right arm will be needed. This have I spoken, so mote it be." He turned back into the puma, and as He turned to pass out of the circle, He stopped, and slashed, lightning-quick, at my chest, His claws marking me through armor and clothes alike. For better or for worse, He had accepted me as one of His own this night as well. He stopped again to slurp up the whisky laid on as offering, picked up the cup of tobacco in His mouth, and silently, He and Carla walked off into the starry sky, surrounded by an honor guard of snakes. Boone and I watched them as they disappeared into the firmament, then stumbled back to town. We had an ugly job to do in the mornin', him and I, and I had me a pretty good idea of where we'd have to start: the safe in Jeannie May's office.
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April 2015

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