by Robert L. Sellers, Jr.
Table of Contents|
“Hide and Seek” appeared
in issue 167.
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.
part 1 of 2
Fall 1898: Goblin’s Toe, Wyoming
As the thick fog of unconsciousness faded, the vampire Valeria began to take stock of her situation while memory returned giving her clues as to what had left her sprawled on her side deep within the darkened bowels of the Donnetelli Scaggs mine.
One arm remained wrapped around the narrow plunger box held tight against her chest, while her hand rested upon the wooden handle she’d used to set off the horrendous explosion.
Her lack of experience had been telling when the concussion from the blast had picked her up and slammed her hard against the unforgiving surface of the rock wall, knocking her senseless. Fortunately her long blond hair which had billowed forward acted as protection when the heat and debris erupted to cover her.
She realized now why the men had always yelled “fire in the hole!” as a warning to find proper cover.
She hadn’t exactly been thinking of that when the creatures had come down the tunnel toward her. Instead, she’d been focused on the wing nuts and charge wire that needed to be wrapped and tightened for the charges to be set properly.
Listening intently she sought sound from anything and everything nearby, remembering that one of the humanoid creatures had almost made it to her when the dynamite had ripped it apart. Its abrupt, high-pitched scream of agony was now just a haunting echo that lingered in the darkness.
Blind without her vampiric sight, she’d learned to rely on other improved senses to tell her if she was alone. Ever cautious, she cleared the curtain of hair from her face before rising to her knees and turning to face the rock wall, placing the palms of her hands flat against the cool rough surface along with her forehead as she listened and felt for movement nearby.
Dirt continued to fall in spurts around her while small rocks dropped from the ceiling and bounced throughout the darkness. As far as she could tell, nothing had survived the blast with her.
Slowly, she brought a hand to the back of her head as her fingers searched for the damage she knew would be there from hitting the wall as hard as she had; the slick feel telling her that it was nothing but a simple scalp wound no doubt looking far worse than it was.
The grit of sand laced within the tangled strands of hair told her she’d been covered in mine dust during the explosion, undoubtedly leaving her clothing a ruined mess. Fortunately her riding coat would have protected her silk blouse; not that she was entirely concerned about her appearance at the moment.
She smiled in the darkness, realizing she wasn’t as upset as she thought she might be in a situation like this if she was worrying about her looks. Vanity often held no part in delirium, she mused.
Turning around, she settled back against the wall; wrapping arms around her bent knees as she began to ponder her options.
“Dammit!” she cursed, lowering her forehead to her knees. She’d been so busy leading away the humanoid creatures stalking her that she’d forgotten that Poe was in the side tunnel.
Undoubtedly he would have awakened by now and felt the blood lust she’d given him. “Poe...” she whispered, wondering what he thought of her now.
Try as she might, her link as his Sire would not connect as it should have. She realized with regret that the mountain above had been heavy with an odd mix of mineral deposits hampering any such attempts this far below the surface.
As far as Poe was concerned, he would think her dead and gone.
Holding her wrist up, fangs descended and her eyes shifted to vampiric sight, allowing her to look at the wound he’d fed from. Although she could see; it would never be as clear as she often wished her vision could be.
The once ragged wound appeared to be almost fully healed.
When she’d first asked Grace about her new sight and described what she could see, the older vampire had smiled and explained how someone with normal sight would find it enhanced while Valeria would only have limited vision due to her natural blindness, apparently seeing everything in shades of burnt orange rather than full color.
She wondered if Poe would forgive her or if she would ever even see him again. The tons of rock that she had brought down now blocked her only route of escape.
The day had started out so well. Returning from a trip to gather art supplies, she’d been preparing projects for the coming winter as she’d done for years: setting up her easels, paints and brushes around the drawing room of their mansion.
The staccato echo of gunfire from the direction of the mine had startled her from her tasks, drawing her from the mansion and down through the quiet town.
With the closing of the mine three years before, most of the population had left; leaving just enough to maintain what little had been left to maintain. At her first stop, she’d found Sheriff Poe’s office empty, leading her to assume that he’d already gone ahead. Thoughts of checking on the others had been left until she checked out the mine.
Sheriff Augustus Poe had become a caretaker of sorts for those left in the town. As mortal and vampire, they’d become as close as hunter and prey could, while avoiding more than the simple bloodletting her feeding required during intimate moments shared between them.
At the entrance to the mine, her fingers had found several sets of tracks in the dirt leading into the cool darkness ahead of her.
The sound of horses nearby led her to where she’d found Poe’s horse tied with several others that were unfamiliar to her. Given that few people remained in town, she knew each of their horses by sound, touch and scent.
From the tracks and the earlier gunshots, it appeared that several men had forced Poe to take them into the mine for reasons that she could not fathom. As far as she knew there simply wasn’t anything valuable enough to have warranted such a foolish adventure.
Time spent challenging herself within the slick confines of the mine would now prove worthwhile as she followed their progress. She hadn’t been joking when she’d mentioned to Poe that she knew the insides of the mine like the back of her hand.
The mineral transfer area told her where the gunfire had come from. Her fingers found discarded pistol shells in the dirt that had been left behind from a hasty reload.
Knowledge of the mine, along with what she could guess had been Poe’s intent, had led her to find him in the number two shaft. As her fingers had explored his prostrate form, they’d revealed injuries that told her just how badly Poe had been hurt in the fall.
The one man she could count on as a friend amongst the mortals was dying right in front of her.
Years ago he’d offered them sanctuary within the mansion on the hill when his path had crossed that of her sister Abigail. A rare individual that hadn’t been put off by their true nature, he’d seen to it that they were accepted by the locals and visitor alike.
Her fingers held fond memories of his long soft hair and creased features along with his curled beard and full lips.
The metal brace on his left leg had come from his first run-in with one of their kind, leaving him crippled from an errant bullet in the process.
With the men chasing Poe closing in, she’d been left with no choice other than to save him the only way she knew how — by sharing the dark gift that Grace had shared with her.
As it had the first time he’d let her feed from him, his blood carried the familiar taste of a fine wine as she held him against her; pulling his life entirely before offering her wrist to give him life anew.
Once she’d become convinced that he had survived her efforts, she’d carried him from the shaft and up through the mine. Sudden gunfire and screams just ahead of them had led her to leave him in a side tunnel as she’d gone to investigate.
The scene she’d found had been horrifying even for her; humanoid creatures with glowing eyes had ripped men apart and were eating from their corpses.
An involuntary gasp escaped her lips when the eyes of one disemboweled victim blinked open. He appeared to be watching her through locks of red hair that were pasted across his forehead.
Dropping whatever it was they’d been eating, the creatures had quickly chased her back and deeper into the mine.
Descending as fast as she could, she’d come across several cases of dynamite that had been left resting at the bottom of the mine. Frantically clawing them open, she’d spread the thin sticks along the tunnel as she ran, trailing the plunger wire behind her.
She was at a bend in the tunnel fastening the wire to the plunger when they’d appeared at the other end; sniffing the air and looking for her. Whatever the creatures were, they were definitely not vampires.
They’d slowly made their way toward her, where she sat in the darkness waiting patiently with the plunger set and ready.
Perhaps they’d realized their mistake when she pulled the handle up; releasing a loud rolling stream of sharp clicks as the gears turned in preparation of the coming charge.
Looking around now, she realized her efforts had succeeded better than she expected. Her vampire vision combined with the quiet rock had told her she was definitely alone.
Pulling herself up to her feet, she kept one hand against the side of the tunnel as she began to explore her new home.
* * *
The tunnel was much larger than she’d initially thought — expanding deeper into the unforgiving rock before abruptly ending as she’d expected it to.
Once she’d made the round trip from the cave-in to the dead-end several times, she carefully paced it off as she mentally formed a more exact picture of where she was.
Using her hands as measurement, she’d also figured how high the tunnel was and where the dirt-filled cracks in the rock might leave it weak and vulnerable.
By her own estimates, her tomb was sufficiently deep and buried well enough that there was little or no hope of her escaping on her own any time soon.
Figuring she might as well use what time she had left constructively, she began to carefully feel out each and every inch of the rock.
An unfortunate thing about becoming a vampire was that she wouldn’t actually die like a mortal would under the same conditions that she found herself in.
Without the need to oxygenate her blood using her lungs, she wouldn’t exactly suffocate.
There would, however, be the eventual rise of unbridled hunger; followed by the panicked madness that blood lust would bring before her body went into hibernation as it slowly shut down and conserved what it could for as long as it could.
At least she wasn’t in a regular coffin or crypt; that much she could appreciate.
She’d heard of vampires found centuries later that had literally clawed their fingers to nothing as they’d wilted away. She shuddered at the thought of what would become of her.
Pushing such thoughts away as best she could, she began to fill in details of the picture she now had of her surroundings.
Eventually, as boredom set in; she’d begun to knock on the walls around her in a systematic fashion looking for whatever it was her mind suggested might be there.
And she found a surprise.
Toward the back of the tunnel, near where it had ended; she found what appeared to be a false rock front that when broken down revealed the gaping mouth of another shaft in the rock; descending yet further into the earth below the mountain.
Who, or for that matter what had either made the shaft or tried to hide it remained a mystery to her. She couldn’t recall any sort of construction being done in the mine for years.
Dropping small rocks told her there was something they bounced off of deep beneath her, but unless she jumped there wasn’t much of a way to climb down.
Standing at the edge, she closed her eyes and did just that; keeping her arms crossed over her chest to protect herself as well as crossing her ankles to keep them together.
One singular advantage she would enjoy as a vampire was that falling from great heights would bring little or no lasting harm if done properly. The free-fall rush of air was invigorating, as unseen things brushed past her as she dropped.
Enhanced senses warned her of the approaching bottom well enough ahead that the abrupt landing hadn’t caught her entirely by surprise. Tapping her boots, she found herself standing on what appeared to be a wooden platform. Almost as wide as the shaft itself, she realized it was an elevator much like the one the miners had used.
The platform was held in place by four clamps, while chains would allow whoever was using the elevator to lower it still further. Given her options, she released the clamps and slowly began to lower the platform.
When the end of the chain was reached, new clamps clicked into place halting the platform and offering yet more chain to attach which would allow further controlled descent.
As the chains showed little rust or wear, she had to wonder when they’d been installed or what they might be made of. Someone had put a lot of thought into this process.
Stopping at each set of clamps, she kept lowering herself deeper into the earth, knowing that with each foot she went, she was that much further away from any hope of rescue that might have come from above.
Minutes seemed to turn into hours as the skin of her hands chafed from the chains requiring her to sacrifice her riding jacket as she fashioned crude gloves.
When the walls around her suddenly gave way to open air, she realized she’d found the real bottom. Carefully she tied off the chains so as not to let the platform drop while she tried to see what she could of what was around and below her.
She appeared to have lowered herself into a huge subterranean cavern; perhaps flooded at one time by the shaft she’d just traversed. Untying the chains, she continued her descent hoping there would be land beneath her. When the platform settled onto a narrow outcrop of rock she wondered where she now found herself, let alone how she would escape.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers, Jr.