Ranger Garret, Bonnie, Black Rabbit, Doc McGee and Jeremiah had put an end to the cult plaguing the town of Coffin Rock. A few hours after the final gun battle, the town was looking and feeling a lot better. The surviving cultists had fled to the hills, along with the proprietor of the Dance Hall and the remaining deputies.
Pearl Daly quickly took control, reclaiming the deeds to the property that Marshal Bryce had stolen from her father and declaring herself sheriff. Her gang moved back to town and became her deputies, a move well regarded by the population.
Looking through Cheval’s possessions, Garret was able to figure out how to get the safe open while McGee pursed through the dead man’s bible and made sense of his scrawling’s. The most notable things determined was that Cheval was an escaped lunatic who’d made his way out to the west coast, where someone had given him a cassock, cross and evil ritual and sent him back east. They also found a chunk of black marble built into his cross. Definitely non-standard and it certainly stood out.
Unable to determine anything else, the group boarded the train, and were given a reward in copper by the grateful townsfolk. The Pacific-Denver express rolled westwards again (it rolled eastwards on the upside down map), the tracks having finally been repaired.
The train made good time leaving Colorado and entering Utah (now the Mormon nation of Deseret), where Jeremiah had to do some fast talking to convince the booze patrol not to confiscate and destroy the many bottles of alcohol he was transporting.
It was once they hit the Sierra Madre Mountains that they ran into problems. The train reached a dead end. Scheduled work on a pass over the mountains had not been done. Conductor Davies explained that they were going to turn the train back and take an alternate route to the south, but it would take a few days for the rail lines to clear so they could fit in. In the meantime, he hired the posse to investigate the work camp to find out what had happened.
Once they agreed, he gave them some directions to the camp up in Donner Pass.
The posse stopped in at Johnson’s trading post on the way towards the camp, buying up some winter clothing, given how cold it was high in the mountains. While they were shopping, Johnson regaled them with the tale of the Donne Party, how they had been misled by con man Lansford Hastings and gotten trapped in the pass that would bear their name in a cold winter. How half the people trapped had to eat the other half to survive, and that their spirits haunted the mountains to this day. That was why he was hanging bottles on the tree outside. A ghost trap to keep them from getting to him.
Black Rabbit was familiar with the concept, and also familiar with how the ones hanging from Johnson’s tree were just bottles. You needed to do a little more than just hang bottles to make a ghost trap.
After that cheery story (and a few comments about why anybody would build a rail line through this place), the posse (including Lizzie Pearce, who was accompanying Ranger Garret), geared up and followed the path of trees that had been cleared to make way for the rails.
Along the way, the group was ambushed by a pack of wolves, who rushed in low and fast under the party’s guns, and were in among them before they could react. A vicious, close range fight erupted; and the wolves were all dispatched brutally. Examining the bodies revealed that the wolves were very well fed, and they fought to the death. Both extremely unusual, given that wolves usually avoided groups of humans unless they were starving.
At the same time, Black Rabbit and Garret began suffering from an incredible hunger, a hunger that was only just partially satiated by the rations they consumed.
Concerned by this supernatural affect, the group pressed on to the work site. The place was in ruins, bones lay around and everything that was remotely edible had been eaten. They quickly spotted someone spying on them from the woodline, and grabbed him. He turned out to be one of the workers, blaming the creatures in the cabin, before Doc McGee gassed him unconscious.
With the hunger slowly growing worse, it quickly became apparent that some effect was inducing a supernatural cannibalistic urge in the people in this region. Suspecting that it may be tied to the ghosts from Johnson’s story, the group headed north towards the lake where the last cabins from the Donner Party were still standing.
They thwarted another ambush along the way. A group of rail workers, driven insane by hunger, attacked them in a cannibalistic frenzy. One was shot dead, and the others rendered unconscious from bullet wounds or a burst of patented sleeping gas.
Figuring that the hunger was just going to get worse, the party continued on, despite the setting sun and the rising shadows. The vicinity around the cabins was dark and twisted, with shadows reaching out for them and forming disturbing shapes, with motion always on the edge of their eyes. Soon, they reached the only cabin still standing, right next to another tree with a ghost trap on it.
The cabin itself was a frozen abattoir, containing most of the rest of the rail crew, who had been butchered and partially eaten. A truly horrific sight. After controlling their stomachs (except for Black Rabbit and Garret, who weren’t as repulsed due to the curse they were suffering from), the group searched the cabin for clues.
Finding a thirty year old skull (which they guessed belonged to one of the original Donner Party members), and some notes; the party came to a few conclusions. That Lansford Hastings had deliberately misled the Donner Party with the intent of forcing them into cannibalism, and that he was responsible for the curse on this valley. A few members of the group recalled old legends of a cannibalistic spirit known as a Wendigo…
And that’s when Hastings made his entry, accompanied by the corpses of the railworkers the group had entered. The fearmonger had found their unconscious buddies, slain them and raised them as the walkin’ dead.
Believing that he completely and totally outmatched the hapless heroes, he began boasting of everything he’d done, of how he’d led the Donner Party into destruction, and how he had turned this particular piece of land into a sanctuary for hunger, starvation and cannibalism.
It made him a great target for the posse, who promptly lit him up with their rifles and magically enhanced throwing cards, sending him tumbling into the foot deep snow.
However, he rose a few second later, arrogantly boasting that the party weren’t the first ones to try killing him with bullets, then he and the zombies charged on the attack. Dead body parts from the cabin also reanimated and started clawing at the posse. Black Rabbit charged ahead to hold the walkin’ dead off, and managed to keep them busy, though he suffered grievous wounds in the process.
Fortunately, Doc McGee had a sudden inspiration, or possibly an act of desperation. He started shattering bottles on the tree. This had an immediate effect of causing ghostly spirits to fly from the bottles and enter the skull he was holding. This caused an immediate reaction from Hastings, who tried to kill McGee and stop him. The rest of the group started helping, and as soon as all seven bottles were shattered, the ghost of the Donner Party were released.
For while the ghosts of the Donner Party were indeed real, angry and haunting this valley, their anger was reserved for one target: the monster that had led them to their deaths. The skull flew towards Hastings, who held up his hands in a vain effort to defend himself and screamed in terror. The angry spirits of the dead whirled around him, ripping his body and soul to pieces; scattering him around the mountain; destroying him utterly. Then, their final work done, the spirits departed this plane of existence for whatever lies beyond the veil of death.
With Hastings dead, the party rounded up the six survivors of the rail crew and returned to the train to report to Conductor Davies. He was horrified by what happened, and thanked the group for resolving it; and paid them both to reward their work and asked them not to tell anybody.