So much for making this one a marketable length.
They found the fireman not ten yards from the train, trying to crawl back through the shale and juniper brush. He was sobbing in that broken, wheezy way Trace remembered from Antietam; his shirt was wet and sticky when Trace touched his shoulder.
“Easy, feller, we got you,” Trace said, turning the man onto his back in Boz’s arms. He began to scream immediately, and bat at them with his shredded hands. His face was dark and shiny in the moonlight, black with blood that seemed to be coming from his scalp. The rest of him was shaking and cold, the breath rattling in his throat. “Conductor! We got your man down here!”
There was a skidding and scuffling as the conductor and Willie scrambled down the grade; Willie’s lantern threw shards of light over the ground and the chewed-up fellow between them.
“Tommy!” the conductor said, dropping to one knee. “Tommy, what happened? Where’s Earl?”
The fireman gurgled gibberish, pawing at the conductor’s coat. His sleeves had been torn off, and there was a big chunk of meat missing out of his forearm. With the lamp brought closer, Trace could see a flap of torn scalp dangling over his forehead, and one eye was gone. It looked like a wolf or bear had bitten into his head.
Trace looked into Boz’s eyes, read the question there, and stood up, looking back toward the train.
“What was it, Tommy?” the conductor asked. “Wolves? Did they get Earl?”
Trace squinted. The windows of the passenger cars glowed dimly from the lamps; he could just make out heads and bodies moving inside. He could see two men standing on the colored car, pacing back and forth, keeping watch. One of them had a spark of fire in his hand, which he raised to his lips.
Something dark was slinking up the gravel grade to the tracks. Something blacker than the sky, darker than the shadows. It moved low to the ground, crawling like a frog but much faster, the size of a man. Another one, behind it. Two more--two cars down. Converging on the train.