by Robert L. Sellers Jr
Table of Contents|
“Widow Maker” appeared
in issue 161.
|part 1 of 3|
Welcome to the Weird Wild West where the men are tough and the women can be, too. It’s a place with horsepower measured by hands or hooves, and the number of cylinders in a long gun or pistol makes the difference between life and death on the open frontier of the western United States.
The streets here are dusty, the lead hot, the women fast and the cards faster. Disagreements finish face to face with pistols drawn at noon while the undertaker waits with his pine. Quick justice is dispensed under tall trees and at the end of a short rope — if you’re lucky.
There are people here who are not as they seem, and others who watch them. Supernatural and mortal alike unite to reach what peace they can find between them. Hunters can become prey, and prey can become the hunter. This is their story.
Spring 1875: Goblin’s Toe, Wyoming
Clementine Blue sat perfectly still as the healing spell she’d cast turned the pain of her wounds into dulled memories of their former selves; once the cover of glamour had proven worthless through the vampiric nature of those who’d joined her after the last layover.
Acute awareness from her sensorial third eye had flared warning about the true nature of the man and woman now sharing the closed confines of the stagecoach; upon their arrival they had asked that the shades be drawn to keep the interior as cool as possible.
She’d complied easily, hoping that the glamour would make her uninteresting and vague as they settled in.
Her long, dark auburn hair hung straight, cascading to splash gently across her breasts and down her back. She’d avoided wearing makeup or scenting herself during the trip; she kept the soft skin of her oval face clean and plain to allow the glamour spell the purest affect that she could muster.
To avoid muddling the glamour with undue color, she’d chosen black for all her clothing; from the ankle-length skirt and laced boots to the fabric of her long-sleeved, open-necked blouse. The dark shawl from her mother hung loosely over her narrow shoulders to compliment her dark amber-green eyes.
Perhaps her stepfather had foreseen the possibility of vampires when he’d suggested she wear the thin black neck wrap with its stitched cross patterns of warning, leaving a triangle of bare skin to descend beneath the fabric of her blouse.
The sterling silver, squared pendant adorned with a blood-red ruby lay comfortably across the hollow of her breasts and was held in place by a thin silver chain. Handcrafted by a sorcerer, it would hold any spell that she might cast upon it for the length of a day, but only if she added a drop of her own blood by the casual brush of a finger as she cast the spell.
The tall, angular vampire who’d joined her carried himself with steely assurance marked by his squared jaw and piercing ice-blue eyes. Removing his top hat, he revealed close-cropped blond hair, cut flat across the top of his head. Once settled in for the trip, he’d introduced himself as Leviticus LaRouchette and the raven-haired woman as his niece Natalia De Lascanti.
As LaRouchette spoke, she’d caught just the faintest touch of a foreign accent that hinted at something not quite French, but definitely European.
They appeared to be city folk: he was dressed in a full vested suit while his niece wore a frilled dress designed to show elegantly rounded cleavage to those who might notice such things.
The vampiress De Lascanti smiled, dark red lips curled in amusement when she’d asked what a young woman like Clementine was doing traveling alone without an escort such as she had in her uncle. The clean bone-white teeth of her smile and the piercing dark green of her eyes left Clementine chilled — as unintentional as it may have been.
While her uncle’s accent had been faint, De Lascanti’s was thick and definitely French. As a child she had spent enough time around passing immigrants to learn several foreign languages.
Clementine’s quickly crafted lie of being under the ever-watchful eye of the stage driver during her journey appeared to have placated concern for the moment; however, she was just as sure that they’d seen through that false truth as easily as they’d seen through the glamour, just not calling her on it as of yet.
She’d learned enough about blood hunters as a child to avoid annoying them, and she hoped her two fellow travelers had fed properly before setting out on the long journey with her.
Seated with legs folded back beneath her and swaddled within the relative comfort and safety of the seat opposite them, she’d watched as they casually bathed her with glances of curiosity masked as benign disinterest while they traveled.
Keeping calm by quietly repeating the initial incantation that would cast a blistering fireball, she’d wondered how difficult it must be for them to be this close to their prey and not try for a taste of her blood.
The half-demon result of relations forced upon her mother had given her stronger powers than that of any witch she’d met, including those she’d inherited and carefully honed with study and practice.
Immune to vampiric charm through the power of her demon sire, she’d found herself able to meet their gaze evenly, causing just a hint of amusement as they’d watched each other within the coach.
All but a few quick words remained to complete the spell. The vampires would regret making any move against her: the damage from the resulting inferno balanced against keeping her life and blood intact.
Most people she’d met who practiced magic were of the common misconception that women could hope at best to suffer as mere witches while men could become powerful sorcerers controlling much of the knowledge they’d impart to male students of the craft. The swift onset of her abilities while suffering through the fires of puberty had shown such an assumption to be false.
Fortunately, her mother had been able to hide her away from anyone who might recognize the depth of her youngest child’s newfound abilities as a possible threat to the accepted order within the magical community at large.
Any spell she read was quickly absorbed and mastered without the effort or the practice often required of her male counterparts. Books she secretly acquired from sorcerers’ students helped her expand her repertoire of skills, and she often surpassed even her mother’s expectations in the process.
Her body still hurt from the fall suffered while casting the last seeker spell she’d sent to find her missing sister. She had been hovering above the hard wood floor of the hotel room while deep in spectral concentration.
Images of a beautiful young black woman with dark eyes and full lips had come to her from the seeker, followed by flashing images of forest and blue sky. Burning pain like the tip of a glowing brand had suddenly lanced through her back and out through her right breast; punching the air from her lungs as she fell to the floor and knocked over the candles she’d lit.
Writhing in the purest agony of suffocation and blinding pain, she’d fought to regain her breath while frantically clawing at the floor and kicking out at the bedpost in unbridled panic. Fortunately she’d been able to grab a pillow just as her breath returned and used it to bury her face — silencing howls of agony as she thrashed and the vision cleared leaving her senseless and sprawled in pain on the floor.
Luck of the goddess was with her: no one came to check on the noises she’d made during the whole misadventure. Anyone who overheard may have attributed the sounds to rough fornication with a fellow passenger.
The inside of her right breast and back right shoulder were still tender to the touch and bruised red the next morning; along with other, more sensitive feminine areas she had not seen in the vision. She was puzzled as to the significance of the injuries. Perhaps fornication forced upon her sister had produced the injuries. Clementine could only assume so; she had no experience of such acts to tell her differently.
The mystery was compounded by the unmistakable signs of lash marks that splashed across her back mixed with long bloody slices she found in the mirror. Wherever her sister Daniela was, she’d been badly assaulted and abused; reflection of her injuries was cast back upon Clementine in their deeply painful entirety by the seeker spell connection.
Casting a safety circle would protect her from such violence if her vision proved to be as rough as it had the last time. The candles could be spread further apart and a pillow placed beneath her as she hovered; it would protect her tailbone from the hard landing that had sent waves of pain up her back.
Her face flush as if slapped and her body sore from the mystical pummeling, she’d still managed to gingerly limp to the coach to pull herself up as carefully as she could onto the blessedly soft cushion of the seat. It might have been fortuitous chance that the vampires had arrived and eloquently distracted her from the pain of healing.
Although she’d pulled her shade as asked, she knew perfectly well why they’d wanted to avoid the direct touch of sunlight.
There was no way in the seven layers of hell that she’d be able to sleep while in such close proximity to the blood hunters as she was; silently calling out to the goddess for protection as they moved west.
The search for her missing sister Daniela had brought her further from the safety of her parent’s home in King’s Cross, Pennsylvania than she’d ever been while traveling alone.
Daniela had left them the year before in search of her destiny in the far state of California. When promised word of her arrival had failed to reach Daniela’s parents or her sister who’d waited in vain for any word from their eldest daughter, they’d finally accepted Clementine’s request to go and find answers.
Her seeker spells had only sent a mixture of confusing imagery given the distance they’d had to travel to find Daniela.
Within the easy reach of the killers across from her, Clementine wasn’t sure if her trip would end as well as she’d hoped it would when she’d initially set out.
Perhaps she would leave the vampires to their journey at the next possible opportunity. She’d heard the name Goblin’s Toe, Wyoming called out just this morning as their next stop over when they’d crossed into the western territories. With any luck, she’d be safe in a hotel room and away from the tight confines of this rolling box and the blood hunters who’d ridden with her.
* * *
The town was as she’d expected it would be. Dusty streets, worn clapboard buildings and boardwalks to either side. Two water towers rose into the sky, marking corrals with a blacksmith’s shop between them.
The vampires left the coach without a word, walking arm in arm as they headed toward the nearest tavern; direct sunlight not having quite the effect she’d expected for them. Picking up her bag, she set out to find lodging before trying to locate information that might reveal the whereabouts of her sister.
Somehow, she assumed it would not be the last she’d see of Leviticus LaRouchette or the raven-haired Natalia before the stage carried them on toward California without her.
Relieved to find quiet confines within the hotel Long Branch, she walked through tables set for dinner as a slender golden-haired woman wearing an apron set places for guests.
The young man behind the guest counter welcomed her and took her silver coins in payment for the twelve-dollar weekly rate; offering as it did a suite with a commode and bathtub that she wouldn’t have to share.
The single bed, chair and small set of drawers greeted her when she’d closed the door and locked it behind her. The oblong claw foot tub sat against the far wall, offering to help her body heal once she’d finished checking out the rest of the town; a sign indicating hot or cold water was available from the staff as needed.
At the mention of her sister’s name, the hotel owner had suggested she start at a place called Phoebe’s. He cautioned her about the nature of the business transacted there and suggested she consider the sheriff as her first stop.
Using trap and cloak spells to secure her bag, she headed out to visit the telegraph office and send word of her travels to her parents that would be waiting back east. Only then, would she go in search of the sheriff and the place called Phoebe’s.
* * *
Sheriff Augustus Poe’s office was larger than she’d expected. It contained two small desks covered with a mixed assortment of long barrels, springs and other mechanisms, and the odor of gun oil hung pungently in the air.
The tall, angular Sheriff with long white hair and dark beard leaned back against one table, with his strong arms crossed, watching her. She noted the metal brace wrapped around the knee of his left leg.
“Care to tell me more about this so-called feeling of yours?” he asked pleasantly, while his gray eyes told of a more serious side to his question.
The dark skinned Indian woman named Running-Deer had gone off to inquire at Phoebe’s about Clementine’s sister and her possible whereabouts.
Clementine had never met a woman wearing a badge before, let alone an Indian woman who wore her own gun belt and pistols. “As I’ve explained to your deputy, I come from a family that is particularly... sensitive to one another. That’s why I’ve had the idea that Daniela’s in some sort of serious trouble.”
The story she’d told them had been invented on the way across the street. She was unsure how much she’d dare tell the Sheriff of her abilities and still have him believe her; average non-magical folks often proved phobic of those who were adept at natural spell casting.
He simply smiled, stroking his beard with one hand and shaking his head. “I’d almost buy that story except that you traveled all the way out here by yourself on little more than even I would call a hunch. Good-looking young women such as yourself just don’t do that kind of thing nowadays.” He looked her up and down appraisingly. “Especially, if they expect to get wherever it was that they’re going, in one piece and with their virtue intact.”
Sheriff Poe’s weathered appearance had been hiding a sharper mind than she’d first realized.
“It might also explain how your sister got to be at Phoebe’s, if she’s really there and working for him. Some women ask for that kind of work, others just fall into it one way or another when they’ve found themselves desperate and out of luck.”
Clementine was becoming annoyed. First, the vampires had seen clear through her glamour spell and now this Sheriff clearly realized she was not quite whom she’d said she was — and she was supposedly one of the best at her craft.
“What are you exactly?” He finally asked, smile dropping as he noted her frown.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr