Blood οn the Cursed Railroad – Extended Epilogue

Sheridan, California, 1878

By all accounts, Philip Henry Sheridan was a miserable man in his later years. At the age of forty-seven, he had left most people in sour moods upon meeting them. After making a name for himself during the War Between the States when General Ulysses S. Grant appointed Sheridan as a cavalry commander, the man went on to give the Confederate General Jubal Early’s men a crushing blow in what was later known as the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. His overwhelming victory ensured that Sheridan’s post-war years would be prosperous. 

When Sheridan retired from active military service, he used his influence and his funds to build a town in northern California that would make a lasting legacy to his life. Sheridan understood that it took the money and great men to make deals in the west to keep supplies flowing and continue building his town. He had managed to get a post office established in ’68, which meant the place would bring more prominent people into his namesake city. Never lonely, he spoke his mind and had no care for others’ retorts. 

Sheridan believed that once he received the post, the overland coaches arrived daily, that the Central Pacific Railroad had to use Sheridan as their next hub. However, in ’75, when trouble struck the town of Auburn, everyone believed that Sheridan personally had something to do with the sabotage of the railway’s tunnel at Clipper Gap and murder of several railroad workers, people began leaving his city, moving elsewhere that didn’t carry a cloud of suspicion. 

In the years that followed, still anxious to have Central Pacific put a line through his city, Sheridan did his best to appeal to any investors and merchants willing to move into the city. He had tax shelters that meant he wasn’t collecting revenue for a period of time while the businesses thrived in selling to settlers in the area. It was risky, but Sheridan believed. Eventually, he’d regain the notoriety that tarnished him following the escapades three years ago. 

On a dark and stormy night in late June, Sheridan sat by the cold fireplace, reading by lantern light. His marriage to a dawdling woman ended with him widowed and not missing the wife of thirteen years. He had a sizeable two-level house with live-in servants. At that hour of the night, everyone else in the house was fast asleep. Sheridan sat in his heavy lien nightgown and dressing gown with a sash. He had finished the tumbler of cognac, ready to retire for the night. 

He had almost finished another chapter in Robert Buchanan’s The Shadow of the Sword. The Scottish novelist wrote a polemic against war. Sheridan found most of the entries captivating and misgiving from an author that had a vastly different experience in war than Sheridan. When the losers of the battle write books, they believe their disgraces should stay alive, immortalized by words on the page. Sheridan believed victors had their accomplishments celebrated in stone statues and holidays.

 The storm brought gusting wind and rain that smashed against the walls and windows with such force Sheridan suspected the torrential rains would leave lasting damage to his beloved estate. He intended to survey the house and property when the storm broke, hoping it would pass by daybreak. 

Something significant shifted inside the house, heavily thudding like furniture movement. Sheridan closed his book, standing by the chair in the parlor, watching the archway, expecting one of the servants to appear in the hallway. He listened for footsteps or hushed voices from servants.

When no one arrived, he carried the French Moorish-styled lantern from the mantle on the fireplace and left the room. Pausing in the hallway, Sheridan felt a draft to his right. The flame under the glass flickered with the airstream. He caught the scent of dampness, the ancient smell of wet leaves, and something that reminded him of surveying the dead on the battlefields. 

Sheridan returned to the fireplace, collected a fire poker, and strolled back to the hallway. He carried the poker instead of grabbing the pistol. If one of the servants dropped something in the kitchen, stumbled in front of him, Sheridan didn’t want to shoot one of his people accidentally. A bludgeoning was easier to forgive than a shooting. As he walked through the house, passing by closed doors, the scent of rain and leaves persisted. The breeze turned to gusts — threatening the flame inside the lantern.

When Sheridan reached the great room he gazed across to the glass doors leading to the marble floor patio. One of the doors had blown open, allowing the elements into his home, ruining the floor and dining table. Clicking his tongue, disappointed with having to check the security of the building, Sheridan rushed across the floor. He put down the lantern on the long mahogany table, leaning the poker against a padded chair, and pushed the door closed. 

Before the doors latched, his ears pricked as the room changed with movement, something large and black rushed at him. Darkness enveloped Sheridan, and he meant to call out, but the chemical taste in his mouth soaked his tongue, and the poison scorched his sinuses. Sheridan swooned, feeling the fall, unable to catch himself. He lost consciousness before crashing to the floor.

***

When he woke, Sheridan thought he’d been struck blind. The lingering chemical taste and smell reminded him of the attack in his home. Someone had abducted him, used some ether or chloroform to subdue him. He tried to move, struggling against something rigid that kept him upright but pinned, fixed and unable to break free. Ropes bound his arms and legs, and more rope tied his wrists against his lap. 

“General Philip Henry Sheridan,” a voice said slowly in the pitch, making his skin crawl. 

He attempted to save face, to appear calm but upset by the intrusion.

“How dare you,” Sheridan said. “Release me immediately.”

“You ordered the deaths of a night watchman named Juan Sharp, a railroad foreman named Kenneth Newman, a railroad inspector named Christopher Blair, a railroad supervisor and two engineers, Melvin Giles, Keith Merrill, and Gordon Mueller. Each of them died needlessly because of your orders.”

“That is unfounded and untrue,” Sheridan said. “I had nothing to do with the deaths of those men.”

“You ordered the killing of the Walker family, Leo, Gail, and their ten-year-old son, Sheldon. They burned to death in their homes because you made it happen.”

“I would never order the killing of women and children,” he said weakly. 

“You are responsible for the death of a young Chinese boy named Roy who was murdered before he reached fifteen years of age.”

“Who are you? I demand that you release me immediately!” Sheridan shouted. His voice carried on well after the words left his mouth. He was either outside or inside a vast arena where the sound echoed. “I will stop at nothing to have you hunted for what you’ve done. You will hang for treason. You will be shot on sight!” His rants continued, thinking of ways to destroy his enemy, Sheridan bellowed and shook. 

When he lost his breath, panting in the blackness, his ears ringing, Sheridan felt a loneliness that was as wide and deep as a chasm. He waited, listening, wondering if his captor abandoned him. Close to his ear, the voice spoke again. 

“Is that what you expected of your men when Virgil Witt, Ernest Avery, Danny Andrews, Alton Weber, Brian Aguirre, and Lee Moran carried out your orders to kill all those people?” 

“Who are you? How dare you accuse me of wrongdoing?” The charges against him had been quashed before they got to trial. “My attorneys handled everything levied against me, and I was acquitted of all charges following the investigation. If you’re here, you know all that.”

“I know you have blood on your hands, General Philip Henry Sheridan. You ordered your men to do those deeds. You had those people killed because of your selfishness,” the disembodied voice floated around Sheridan’s head, coasting from right to left, ear to ear as it spoke. 

“Mr. Witt and his associates worked for me briefly. I have no financial ties to them. I was not responsible for their misdeeds and actions.”  

Sheridan suddenly struggled against his bindings. Whatever held him upright failed in his exertions, and he tipped backward. Ice cold water claimed him. He gaped, sucking a draft of water into his mouth and lungs. His weight changed. Something moved him upright again. Sheridan coughed, spewing fetid water from his nose and lungs. 

Fear stabbed his heart spread its long, bony fingers across his arms and face. Chills covered his body, and he dared not move again, afraid that whoever had snatched him from his home would fail to retrieve him from the watery death if he fell again. It took minutes before he could breathe again without coughing. 

“What — what is it you want?” he whispered. “Do you want money? I have money. Tell me, whatever it is, it’s yours.” He shook against the ropes.

“I want your admittance.”

“Do what? For what? I have nothing I’ve done that brought shame. I’m not responsible for the death of those unfortunate people. You have no right to hold me.” 

“Brian Aguirre survived long enough to confess. He had proof of your orders the others carried out.”

Sheridan hesitated to speak, thinking hard on recalling the man in question. Aguirre was a private in his cavalry. When the war ended, he found his way with the others across the Great Plains to find Sheridan in his home. They had no commanding officer, and Aguirre was young when he had joined the war. Impressionable and malleable, the kind of man that took orders without question and did was had to be done. Aguirre followed orders — he followed the directives necessary to make sure Sheridan got what he wanted. 

“I don’t know him,” he said. 

The bottom gave way, causing Sheridan to fall backward. This time he gulped a mouthful of air before submersion. Only, this time, he was underwater longer. He groaned fought against the ropes. He sniffled involuntarily, and water rushed into his lungs again. Before he got to the surface again, he’d swallowed more water than his stomach could take. He retched, squalid water shot from his mouth and nostrils. Rivulets of sputum hung from his chin and nostrils as his chin pressed against his chest, still gasping for air. His aching lungs burned, trying to grab as much air as possible. 

“Brian Aguirre,” the voice repeated.

Sheridan nodded, smacking his lips. “Yes — yes, I remember, I knew him,” he said. “Why are you doing this?”

“You’re responsible for the murders of nine people — people that had only their jobs and lives, and you took it all away from them.”

“I didn’t—” Before he finished, the world tipped backward, and water enveloped him again. He fought hard against the ropes cutting into his wrists. He screamed underwater, thrashing and fighting the cold, senseless death. 

Upright again, he hacked and spat. 

“You lie again, you will drown.” 

Sheridan had no words, no strength, another submersion, and he’d parish. He feared something more than death — or at least, he thought as much. But faced with the real prospect of dying in the dark, Sheridan realized that a lonely death was far worse than humiliation. 

“I ordered it,” he said, words barely making noise from his mouth.

“Say it again.”

“I ordered those men to carry out the actions at Clipper Gap,” he said. “They weren’t supposed to kill that family. They weren’t ordered to go after the mother and child.” 

He meant to say more; he intended to confess more, but something changed in the atmosphere, and his falling made Sheridan rush to consciousness. Someone shook him awake. He cried out, spreading his arms wide, trying to fleet, he spilled out of the chair in the parlor, landing heavily on the floor in front of the fireplace. 

“Mr. Sheridan, are you alright?” his housekeeper asked. She attempted to help him back into the chair, but Sheridan’s legs weren’t strong enough to lift him from the floor. Instead, he sat back, leaning against the chair cushion. “Shall I fetch the doctor?”

“No, no, I — I’ll be alright.” He looked around. The worried wrinkled face of the housekeeper in her sleep cap, nightgown, and robe took up most of his view. Behind him, and all around where all the things he had acquired to make the room comfortable, the lantern on the mantle burned low. The fire poker remained upright in its holder by the hearth. 

“You cried out in your sleep, sir. I thought you’d fallen down the stairs.”

“Did you find the door open in the great room?” he asked. The rain gushed inside the house, washing across the tiled floor in the great room. He saw it in his mind. “There’s someone in the house.”

“Sir, you’re frightening me,” the woman said, pulling at the collar of her housecoat. “Shall I have someone fetch the Sheriff?”

“No,” he said, using the armrests to get off the floor. 

He padded his clothes, expecting water soaking through the fabric. The soles of his feet were dry — cuffs of his trousers — everything, all dry. His hands were dry, with no signs of binding on his wrists. Sheridan ran his hands over his face, sniffing the sleeve of his shirt, expecting the lingering presence of a malodorous odor of stagnant water. He smelled fabric and the hint of tonic from his hair. 

“Can I get you anything, Mr. Sheridan?” the housekeeper asked. 

“No, thank you.” 

Had he succumbed to some delusional dream? Was there something foul in his drink besides the smoky spirits?  

Reluctantly, the woman shuffled her feet, using a small candle lantern she’d carried with her in the dark. Sheridan got up from the chair on trembling legs. It took him several minutes to leave the parlor; fear had claimed his limbs, making his legs stiff like rigor mortis had set. He collected the lantern from the mantle turned up the light, so the wick consumed more oil. The flame bobbed, curling black smoke from the glass flute. 

Hesitantly, Sheridan retraced his steps through the corridor. He listened for the footfalls overhead from the housekeeper as she made her way to the second floor and wandered the distance over the carpeted hallway to her room. When the door closed upstairs, Sheridan paused, waiting, listening, only able to hear the pounding of his heart. He began to relive the sensations he had experienced. How had all that happened to him? Why was he summoned to some undisclosed location to submit to torturous questioning? For what purpose did it matter about what dead men did under his command?

When Sheridan reached the open double doors to the great room, he fought the urge to run away. Before him was the expansive space and the long dining table, he had hosted dignitaries from all over the country at that table. Beyond the table were the sheer drapes hanging over the glass doors leading to the marble patio. Nothing was out of place, nothing unseemly in the room.

Sheridan took long slow steps across the imported ceramic tiles. His hands shook as he put down the lantern on the varnished wood surface. Slowly, Sheridan made his way from the table to the doors leading to the back of the house. He scanned the room, looking for traces of rainwater, puddles, and footprints, anything that proved what he had experienced happened. 

Pulling the curtains aside, Sheridan looked through the glass pane as rivulets of rainwater distorted the view outside. He cupped his hands, staring into the darkness beyond. His breath, too fast to stop, had fogged the glass in a few moments. 

Sheridan checked the lock; it was seated, still locked, as it was on any other night before he went to bed. He flipped the brass knob, turned the handle, and opened the door. The cold breeze and chilly rain washed over him. Sheridan looked for movement, signs of life in the dark. He stepped outside, peering around, leaving the lantern on the table behind him with the double French doors open, showing the light like a beacon he could use to go home again. 

Further across the patio, the marble slippery underfoot. Sheridan pushed his feet across the smooth surface, watching for something to attack, waiting for someone to rush at him from the manicured hedges. He reached the end of the marble, crossing the threshold onto the gravel walkway that wound through his property. Slowly, step by step, Sheridan wandered into the night and rain. He checked behind him, expecting someone close. He saw the light in the dark. The lantern resting on the tabletop looked like it was suspended above the floor, hovering like an apparition held it for him. 

He moved further away, following the trail behind the residence, still searching, still using the lantern that appeared to shrink and shimmer the further away he crept. Rain cascaded over him. The black sky had broken streaks of white light flickering, chased by the distant grumbling thunder. 

“Where are you?” Sheridan whispered to the night. “Where did you go?” 

He lost sight of the lantern inside the home, and its beacon had gone out. He continued onward, stretching out his hands, reaching for phantoms. He searched for the dead. Out there, somewhere, he’d find that disembodied voice again. He’d face his accuser again, show no fear this time, and know that above all, Sheridan would remain upright and unsullied by the deeds of other men.

Sheridan wandered into the night.

Later in the daylight hours, groundskeepers found Philip Henry Sheridan submerged in a stagnant ditch, clinging to muddy roots, calling out the names of people no one could account. In the years following that incident, Sheridan often talked of how a specter had visited him to accuse him of murder. But no one saw it as more than the ramblings of a delusional man. He died at the age of fifty-seven, a broken and shriveled man.   

THE END


38 thoughts on “Blood οn the Cursed Railroad – Extended Epilogue”

    1. Great story. Always enjoy your stories. Thanks
      But the kindle version needed a good editor, at times I thought book was translated by someone speaking something other than English.

    2. This was the first of your books I have read. It will not be the last!! Amazing extended epilogue. Might have like some reference to how young Andrew faired.

    3. Mr. Burns, I have read lots of your books and I’ve enjoyed every one of them. This one was even better than the last one I read. Thank you for giving me hours of enjoyment from your books. Can’t wait to start the next adventure.

  1. Very well written. Interesting story line. I’m glad Sheridan didn’t get away with it.
    Looking forward to other books by you.

  2. An awesome story that was very entertaining to the last sentence. Looking forward to your next book.

  3. Mister Burns,
    I enjoyed your story a lot. There was one unimportant detail I want to comment on. Early in the book, describing the scenery, you mentioned looking north from Clipper Gap an seeing giant redwood trees. This was an unforced error. I live somewhere near to the story location, and I believe there are no redwoods within 100 miles of that area. Don’t do that.

    Art

  4. I enjoyed the story; however, the many typos, misused words, many omitted words etc. indicate that you need to hire an editor/proofreader for your next books.

  5. I enjoyed the book thoroughly, your plots are very interesting!. I was disappointed to not see any more info on Summer snd Joel in the extended epilogue. Also it is unlikely that you would find two stallions in a rental livery, you would more likely to find geldings and or mares.
    Keep up the good work,

    Gary Baker

  6. A fascinating tale, to say the least. I missed several meals while riveted to the story. You, sir, are a master storyteller. Thanks for your wonderful tale. I look forward to more such stories from your imaginative mind.

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