Late evening air held its breath. An ammunition round popped into shotgun barrel freezing blood. Menacing eyes glared down the length of the barrel. Oozing around legs, fog licked the gunman.
Sebastian followed the instruction, he raised his hands in the air. His heart beat faster. This was not the first time he faced someone threatening his life, a hazard of being so big, but experience didn’t make it easier. His gaze swept the road. Lights glowed within the fog: a nearby lantern swung gently in an unseen hand, a candle illuminated a window, and deep within the murk a wriggling glow of a fire sparked. He could make out the dark shape of a second man, a boy maybe, a few feet behind the gunman. The others he heard, a murmur among boots shifting in the muddy road.
Another barking order, and Sebastian found himself taking a step closer, boot squishing mud. Even with his long coat closed tight, he shivered. His revolver pressed against his hip, beneath the coat, beyond reach.
“Look at the size of him,” said the boy. Sloshing mud, he scrambled back, fog consuming him.
Sebastian grinned, a reflex pulling at muscles. Whenever he found fear in the faces of others, a warm smile put everyone at ease. He reminded himself that the people of Dunston feared a menace. They needed reassurance. His smile burned fog from his face. His heart raced on.
“Why ya here?” The gunman’s voice sounded old, worn. His aim drooped to the giant’s legs.
“The church,” said Sebastian. The truth was his shield, and he prayed it held strong. “Father Gustav sent me.”
“Walk all the way here?”
“Took a train to Brook Grove. I walked from there.” Sebastian searched the fog. Only the gunman stood out. Dark shapes grew out of the murk, buildings huddled on both sides of the road. “They didn’t have a horse big enough to carry me.”
“Reckon not for a giant.”
“Please,” said Sebastian. This was his second assignment for Gustav. The Warton Haunt had turned out to be a case of simple superstition. Already this one set his nerves on fire. “I’m here to help.”
Shadows shifted within the fog, the light from the hidden fire at the far end of the road dimmed and brightened again. The scent of roast pork hung in the air.
“It comes with the fog,” said the boy. He sloshed closer emerging from the mist. “A monster.”
“Hush boy!” The gunman spat. Teeth gritting, he raised the shotgun higher aiming for the huge torso. “I reckon this giant is with our monster.”
Father Gustav had mentioned very little, a murder, an unholy terror. Sebastian remained still trying his best to maintain a pleasant expression. His heart thumped. “The sheriff,” he said. “Father Gustav mentioned the sheriff expects my arrival.”
Mud sloshed, shadows moved within the fog, the residents of Dunston crept closer. Murmurs, the fog swallowed their hushed voices. The gunman’s finger crept over the trigger, and his hand shook. The boy glanced at the gunman, eyes growing big.
“Missing,” said the gunman, whispering. His hands trembled. “No sheriff here.”
Sebastian knew nothing more dangerous than a frightened man with a gun. The fog was no help. He wondered how his father, Rhemus the Giant, had dealt with situations like this. A smile and a reassuring voice he imagined. Giants were only good for three things: hefting big loads, reaching high places, and threatening others. Sebastian felt comfortable with the first two. The third he avoided.
“Allow me to prove myself,” said Sebastian, uncertain where the words came from. Channeling his father’s spirit, he supposed. “I will find your monster.”
“Tabitha,” said a woman, a shape within the fog.
The gunman gritted his teeth. “Hush Verna!”
“Thomas!” Verna pushed through the mist and stood behind the gunman. “Give the giant a chance.”
Sebastian nodded feeling his heart thumping into his throat. He saw kindness within the woman’s eyes, and focused on her as a connection. “My name is Sebastian Rhemus. Pleasure meeting you, Verna.”
“Look at him him, Thomas,” said Verna, smiling. “He has the face of an angel.”
Eyes narrow, Thomas studied Sebastian. “Like the devil, I reckon.” His voice was quiet. His hands recovered steadying the shotgun.
Heart thundering, Sebastian focused his mind on a calm summer day, imagining the warmth on his face. He smiled at Verna, and seeing her return the smile he found his heart slowing.
“Thomas.” Verna scowled at the gunman.
“We have two dead and one missing,” said Thomas. He lowered the shotgun. “Cry my pardon if I seem anxious.”
Sebastian lowered his hands, and his heartbeat fell.
“Very well, giant. Find our monster.” Thomas licked his lips. Eyes narrowing, he glared at Sebastian with suspicion. “Return our Tabitha.”
Folding hands together, Sebastian nodded into a bow. “I will.”
“Only then will we welcome you to Dunston.”
Sebastian wanted to stay, reassure them, investigate, but part of him liked the idea of getting away, clear of the shotgun’s reach and beyond the creeping fog. Besides, the missing woman needed him. He thought best to keep the questions brief, focus on finding their Tabitha before it was too late.
Thomas nodded over his shoulder. “Start with Myrtle Ridge. Where the monster dwells.”