Prose Header


by Robert L. Sellers Jr

Table of Contents
“Witchy Woman” appeared
in issue 162.
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.

Summer 1878: Goblin’s Toe, Wyoming

Clementine Blue sat quietly pulling weeds from around her sister Daniela’s tombstone.

Her long black skirt lay tucked beneath her slender legs. Dark auburn-red hair gently splashed across the rounded curve of her breasts and down her back. A square, sterling silver pendant adorned with a blood-red ruby lay nestled in the narrow hollow revealed by the low cut of her blouse.

Handcrafted by a Sorcerer, the pendant could hold any spell she cast upon it for the length of a day. Adding a drop of blood from the casual brush of a finger would set the spell as she cast it.

A narrow black neck wrap with stitched cross patterns of warning was wrapped around her neck. Before her first trip west, her stepfather had suggested the wrap. Perhaps he had the foresight that vampires might cross her path along the way.

She preferred black clothing to enhance her cover spells; any hint of color was carefully subdued to protect against distortion. With little makeup and no scent of perfume to arouse anyone, she could easily cast glamour and pass through any crowd undetected. Glamour — her spell of choice — could make her appear old and haggard or elegant and alluring at her whim. Subdued light also allowed her to pass as an old man where women entertained and seduced their clients. Ignored in a dark corner, she would listen and enjoy the entertainment that went on around her. It had proven a good way to gather bits of news and rumor that were often plentiful amongst the travelers who passed through town.

Her morning ritual was as it had been for the last three years. She rose just before dawn with the night at its darkest. The streets of Goblin’s Toe, Wyoming often proved quiet in the early morning. Soft rustle of curtains from the open windows of the brothels smothered heavy snoring that filtered out from the lust-filled rooms behind.

Blessings of the goddess had allowed the nights to remain cool during the unrelenting heat wave.

A solitary miner smoking at the entrance to the Donnetelli Scaggs mine nodded as she passed. Covered in a thin coating of dust, his appearance was that of a phantom. The gaping mouth of the mine often reminded her of the maw of a giant beast clawing its way out of the hillside.

Her memory allowed her to travel without light as she followed the worn path up through the tall grasses of the ridge. With each visit, she brought what news their family had sent from back east. Bits and pieces of life from the mining town that had become their home often entertained as she spoke of them.

Tending Daniela’s grave helped pass the time as the rising sun bathed the valley below them with light. The beauty the goddess provided was stunning to watch unfold. Clementine often enjoyed the view until midday when her duties as hostess for the Long Branch called her down from the ridge.

She had suspicions that Daniela herself somehow managed to make the weeds appear just to give Clementine something to do while she visited. It was hard to believe that three years had passed since the Indian Running-Deer had found Daniela’s lifeless body sprawled against a log on a hillside not unlike the one where she now rested.

The loss of her sister Daniela had come as a stunning blow. When Clementine discovered the demon that had played a part in Daniela’s death, any sorrow Clementine felt shifted to angered resolution. Her skills and knowledge combined as she took vengeance and used a trap to drive off the demon.

She caught a flicker of light from across the valley as the sun’s rays reflected from the windows of the mansion that had become her home.

It was somewhat amusing that the vampires who now owned the entire mine property had found the demon trap unsettling. Even she hadn’t realized it would become embedded in the drawing-room floor as a permanent fixture. To the new owners, it only made sense that Clementine would be the best tenant for such a place.

Built in New England style, the mansion had tall narrowed windows covered in vines and a wide wrap-around porch. A widow’s walk above the second floor gave it a spooky look even from a distance. The spiked iron fence that surrounded it also managed to keep errant visitors away.

The undertakers had set Daniela on a small slope in a grove of spruce that stood guard over her. From the mansion, Clementine could easily find the stone marker. It was almost as if her sister watched over her from afar.

She was still amazed that she’d stayed on as long as she had. As hostess of the Long Branch, she had helped form a sterling reputation of comfort and good food for all who passed through on their way east or west. It was through the efforts of Sheriff Augustus Poe that she had stayed at all. He’d gone to great lengths to make her comfortable within the community.

The Indian woman Running-Deer was one of Poe’s deputies. Tall and dark-skinned with long, black hair and dark amber eyes, she’d earned respect from everyone in town. The other deputy was the mysterious Negro whom everyone called Cat.

A blacksmith, Cat also carried a badge when there was call for it. Although she and Cat had become close, it wasn’t for the reasons many speculated about. Cat had much the same secret that she had. Demon blood ran in their veins, giving them power beyond that of the other mortals around them.

While she was a half demon result of her mother’s misadventure with the demon who’d become her sire, Cat was a human mix of something else entirely. He was larger than any Negro she’d ever met, and he was the strongest, as well. His thick-muscled arms could bend raw steel with little effort. And yet his face often held a kindness that shone softly in his brown eyes.

It had been while they were fashioning the iron rings and triangles for the demon trap that she’d begun to figure him out. Perspiration drenched her pale skin and soaked right through her clothing while his taut, black skin shed not a drop. Even when she’d set fire to his forge, the result was much hotter than she’d expected it to be.

With the demon banished from the mansion, she began to visit Cat in his smoke-filled forge on a regular basis. He hadn’t skipped a beat in their conversation when she’d finally come out and asked him directly what he was.

“Those that created us call us Daemagriff.” His deeply graveled voice rumbled through the smoke. “We were used to hunt down and destroy praetor demons during a war long ago.” She’d watched as he continued hammering the steel rim. “We have the ability to know demons by their trail of corruption. You could almost say we have a nose for their stench.”

“I’ve heard my sire was a praetor demon,” she’d offered evenly, “called forth by my mother without proper preparation. It was how I came to be.”

The massive hammer held steady in the air as he turned and looked down at her in appraisal. After his massive shoulders rose and fell in a shrug, he returned to the hammering. “Makes sense, witches like your mother never knew what they were doing when they tempted someone from the darker realms.”

“Can you tell from me if you knew the demon that is my sire?”

“Nope,” The one word response had brought a frown to her lips as he’d rested the hammer and held the piece of iron deep in the hell fire of the forge. “I’d sense familiarity, but nothing more. Your scent is not familiar.”

“If I was familiar and you knew his name, would you tell me?”

“His name would allow you to call him, which by your very existence has proven to be a bad idea at least once.”

When asked if the demon trap would have worked on her sire when her mother had summoned him, Cat’s deep rolling laughter had filled the forge. “What do you think?”

The sharp echo of sudden gunfire that wafted up the ridge brought her out of her reverie. Startled birds took flight from nearby trees as the sound reached them. With a sigh of regret, Clementine realized the peaceful morning she’d been enjoying was over. She wiped the sleeve of her blouse across her forehead as her dark amber-green eyes looked up into the clear blue sky. From where she found the sun, she figured it was just about noon anyway. Such violence this early in the day would undoubtedly prove a bad omen for the townsfolk below.

Looking down she spotted two riders as they left the town. One rode east while the other rode west. Of the two, one rode hunched down and low over his saddle, a telling clue that the flying lead must have drawn blood. She saw several miners appear from the darkness of the mine, watching the riders as dust rose along their trails.

Augustus Poe’s somber prediction came to mind. With the heat wave festering as it had for weeks, the sheriff had frowned as his sharp eyes watched for the trouble he’d predicted would come sooner than later.

All it’ll ever take will be some foolish spark; flared tempers with pistols drawn leading to dire circumstances for all involved.

Finished with her weeding, Clementine said goodbye with a gentle brush of her palm across the smooth stone marker. As she passed the miners at the entrance of the mine, she wondered if anyone she knew had suffered from the gunfire.

* * *

Sheriff Augustus Poe sighed with resignation.

He stood alone in the open doorway of the Consummated Bank and Trust. One hand rested on his gun belt while he stroked the thick curl of his beard with the other. Long hair bleached white by the sun lay flat and neat across his back. Skin dark and creased from the soft caress of wind gave testament to his days as a federal marshal of the open territories.

Limited only by the brace around his left knee, Poe enjoyed his role as the town sheriff. Even in the firm grip of the heat wave, things had been fairly quiet until the failed bank robbery.

His sharp pearl-gray eyes studied the dead man that lay half turned in the street. The shotgun blast had taken him like a knuckled fist, kicking him back out into the street. Brown eyes lay open to stare at whatever it was that they’d last seen. Unkempt dark hair lay exposed beneath the flop hat that been knocked off as he fell. A Colt pistol lay clutched in one fist. From the closed hammer, it was clear he’d fired off a least one shot before death had claimed him. A thin trickle of blood from his slack mouth trailed down the stubble of his chin to pool in the dirt as ants moved in to claim the corpse.

Things hadn’t been much better inside the bank.

Jacob Davies — the detective sent by Pinkerton — had managed to put one of the robbers down before Davies himself had fallen dead. For what it would be worth to his family, the man Davies had shot managed to unload his shotgun into the other ne’er-do-well rather than the agent.

Iced down and prepared properly for travel, Davies just might be able to have an open casket at his funeral.

The detective had requested that Poe and his deputies avoid the bank while he waited for the men. It would prove a costly mistake. Trouble had come when the two dead men decided to rob the bank moments before others had arrived to rob it as well. In the confusion, the new arrivals had managed to escape almost unscathed. One had headed west while the other rode east.

Fortunately, Running-Deer had found a faint blood trail from one of the riders just outside of town. She’d gone off to track the wounded rider while Poe and Cat cleared everyone out of the bank.

The Negro deputy Cat was someone who didn’t require the pistols he wore to intimidate. His massive size alone made anyone think twice before going up against him. Over seven feet tall, he was a human mountain of walking black granite.

Poe looked up to find the giant stepping out of the shadows across the street, a grim expression on his usually jovial features.

“Sheriff, you may want to take a look,” the deputy’s deep voice rumbled. “There’s a dead woman sitting back there in the shadows. She’s also appears to have a LaRouchette scarf around her throat.”

“Goddamn it, Cat, we don’t need any more bodies.” Irritation was clear in Poe’s words. Taking his hat off, he raised an arm and wiped the sleeve of his shirt across his brow. “Sorry, Cat. This heat is going to make our jobs that much harder yet.”

The deputy’s lips curled into a wry grin. “Only work that’s going to be difficult will be how the Dewitt boys are going to go about finding enough wood for coffins.”

Poe could only shake his head while he tried not to laugh. The smith always managed to find humor where he could. “When you’re right, Cat, you’re right. Keep an eye on things here while I take a walk.”

The body of the dead woman sat half-leaning against a building deep enough in the shadow of the alley to be out of sight from the street. Positioned as she was, she just might have escaped notice for days but for the stench that was sure to have come in the summer heat. As it was, the narrow space was just yet tolerable as long as he breathed through his mouth rather than his nose.

Familiar as he’d become while protecting the various whores who plied their trade, he was particularly saddened to find that it was Daisy May Wells that Cat had found dead.

Crouching as best he could with the brace protecting his left knee, he studied the dead woman. All of twenty-something, the young whore had been a popular attraction.

Shoulder length reddish-brown hair complemented lightly tanned skin. Her empty, dark green eyes stared back into his as he carefully unbuttoned the top of her frilled blue dress. The dark oblong stain across the fabric stood out as an obscene scar against the otherwise fanciful lace and bows that adorned it.

The thin blue scarf around her neck was something LaRouchette had come up with to identify the girls they used. The vampires had agreed to limit themselves to only a few local whores; paying them for their time and pleasure when they fed. Each carried a scarf to wear while their wounds healed. The scarves also served as warning to those who might otherwise have abused them.

The bullet had poked her dead center in the cleft of her dark tipped breasts, knocking her back against the wall. As she’d collapsed, it was doubtful she’d lasted long before heading off to meet her maker.

From her bent knee poking out beneath the hem of her dress, he noticed dirt on her otherwise smooth skin. In her gloved hand rested a small tube of red lipstick. He took note of the vanity mirror that lay upturned in the dirt nearby.

He tipped his hat back as he studied her. With one hand, he reached out and gently closed her eyes. Although probably not entirely innocent, her death would be a sad addition to the crimes that had been committed on this dark day.

As gently as he could, he pulled her forward while careful to avoid the blood on her chest. Looking over her shoulder, he found nothing to show that the bullet had left her body. Carefully, he set her back against the wall and buttoned up her dress to keep what was left of her modesty intact. With any luck, there was still hope that the caliber of the bullet might lead them to the guilty party once the undertakers opened her up and located it.

It was also quite possible that her death had little to do with the robbery, but his gut told him otherwise.

Poe rubbed his eyes as he rose to his feet and tried to figure where the bullet had come from that had killed her. As he looked around, he spotted the neat exit hole in the side of the dress shop across from her body. From the height of the hole, Daisy May had been on her feet when the bullet had caught her. Had she been on her knees, it would have missed her entirely.

Proceed to part 2...

Author’s note: Characters based upon Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series appear with permission.

Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr

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