by Robert L. Sellers, Jr.
|Table of Contents|
“Dead Speak” appeared
in issue 168.
|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.
Fall, 1898: Helena, Montana
Winter arrived early, bringing with it an unbridled passion that caught many unprepared. Temperatures plummeted and arctic winds roared down from the mountains to torment the plains. Untold numbers of humans and livestock would succumb to nature’s brutality before it was over and never see the spring.
Abigail Dorchester was one of many travelers waiting out the initial blast in Helena, Montana while patiently preparing her wagon and horses for the journey ahead.
A centuries-old vampire, she found that brutal temperatures were the least of her concerns while the mortals who huddled around her tried to keep warm in any way that they could.
Those who noticed her saw an alluring woman of Italian descent with long, raven-black hair, a light olive complexion that bordered upon pale and a calm, yet determined manner.
She traveled wearing a hooded black long coat that covered her blouse, skirts and laced black leather boots. Black elbow-length gloves protected her hands. The broad hood of the long coat worked well to protect her face and neckline from the blowing snow.
Living amongst mortals meant that camouflage was required if a vampire did not want to stick out.
A well-practiced physician, she helped tend to the injuries brought on by rough travel and unforgiving terrain. Her soft voice and reassuring pleasantries helped calm patients as she tended to them.
Almost a week passed before she finally ventured out under the cover of darkness to bring supplies to whatever inhabitants remained in Goblin's Toe, Wyoming.
It would not be an easy journey. Fortunately, she had secured four of the strongest Percheron draft horses, which could pull a heavy load through any weather and whatever obstacles that might lay in their path.
Weighing in at over twenty-four hundred pounds each, they were at least seventeen hands high. The mottled gray and white mares showed little strain as they pulled the modified draft wagon and its cargo through the snow. Skids attached to the bottom of the extended box were in place should they encounter snow that might otherwise hinder the wheels.
She had spent the summer following the remnants of the gold rush that James Marshal and John Sutter had started in eighteen forty-eight. The news of easy gold attracted the interest of as many vampires as it had prospectors.
Although the state of California had offered colorful and plentiful opportunity, she was returning to the one place that she had truly been able to call her home.
The town of Goblin's Toe, Wyoming sat at the mouth of the Donnetelli Scaggs mine. Circumstances brought on by several accidents and unfortunate deaths had finally closed the mine almost three years ago. The population of Goblin's Toe began to dwindle rapidly after that. Within months of the closure, it had become a virtual ghost town.
With fondness, she thought of the one man who had helped her and her sisters become part of that community while it had still been growing; Sheriff Augustus Poe. With his assistance, they had managed to acquire a home that was both safe and remote.
After the mine had closed, he chose to remain with the town long after others had left, and he had become a caretaker of those who stayed.
Augustus Poe was not typical of any Sheriff she had ever met. He had taken the job only after injuring his knee in a gunfight. Before that, he had served as a United States Marshal who had enforced the law throughout the territories.
Long white hair bleached from the sun with dark, creased skin and a curled gray beard made him look older than he actually was. One look into his sharp pearl gray eyes however, and you knew immediately that this Sheriff was anything but a feeble old man.
Rumor of his accuracy with pistol and long rifle alike made most people think twice before causing trouble in his town.
She smiled looking at the long rifle resting in the seat rack in front of her. The lever-action Model Ninety-Four Winchester was a gift that she had carefully chosen for Poe.
The thirty-thirty caliber rifle was lightweight and accurate, quickly proving to be a favorite amongst riflemen. She had sighted it in herself using the skills that Poe had patiently taught her.
She doubted most vampires remembered how to load a rifle, let alone shoot one and hit something. Her vampiric sight and unnatural calmness only helped to increase her accuracy. If she found a target at two hundred to two hundred and fifty yards, the likelihood that she would miss was next to nil if the target was moving. Standing still, the target would not stand a chance.
It had been some sort of cosmic accident that had brought them together on the night that she had fed from a man who would not take no for an answer. When Poe arrived with pistol drawn, she had been as fully prepared to kill as he had been.
Carefully holstering his pistol, they had faced each other over the prostrate body of her victim. She watched with surprise as he calmly moved toward the man on the ground to check for a pulse. When he found her victim was still alive, Poe had treated her as a mortal rather than the monster others of his kind might have under the same circumstances.
Escorting her from the alley that night, they had come to an agreement. She and her sisters would provide the town with a doctor. In exchange for their services, they would receive the deed to an abandoned mansion and occasionally serve as executioners when the judge called for one. The guilty would no longer hang when the judge required a death sentence.
Poe had affectionately labeled it the “waste not, want not” policy.
It had proven to be a suitable agreement for all concerned. Although related by blood, the women were not actually sisters at all, at least in a mortal sense. Grace had sired them both centuries before, giving them a common blood link that only vampires could enjoy.
To this day, Grace was the oldest vampire Abby had ever met. Regal-looking with long black hair like Abby’s own, she had once been a high priestess of an order that had become extinct thousands of years ago.
Valeria however, was like salt to their pepper. Long golden blond hair accented her features against that of her raven-hair companions.
A rarity of sorts, she was completely blind when not using vampiric sight. Even with her blindness however, she had worked to become an accomplished artist; painting what she could see with vampiric sight that she normally would not have seen otherwise. The resulting artwork had drawn much attention and been admired by many.
Her patience and skills as a teacher had also become well-known, drawing students from far and wide. It may have been for that reason alone that Valeria chose to stay behind while she and Grace had traveled elsewhere. Abby had been looking forward to their reunion ever since she had started traveling east.
While she originally had headed west, Grace had traveled east toward New Orleans. Before leaving, Grace informed them that she planned to return in the spring.
Undoubtedly, they would each have much to share of their respective travels.
Even with the combined power of the mares, the terrain took almost five days to cover. Along the way, she managed to find food and water for the horses with intermittent quenching of her own thirsts through brief encounters with other travelers.
By the time they reached the lower foothills that would eventually lead to their destination, the drifts had faded to a light cover of snow while the temperature remained brutally cold and unpleasant.
Riding high on the bench of the wagon, she began to notice something strange. Once they had moved away from the deep cover of snow, there had been little or no sign of wildlife.
Even with the weather as it was there were usually birds hunting across the sky or a rabbit scurrying across the path to draw her attention.
The closer they got to Goblin's Toe, the quieter everything became around them. The good news was that the sky had become clear and she could see for miles.
Rounding the bend to get her first look at the town, she reined the horses to a halt and locked the wagon’s brake. Something was definitely wrong. She could feel it in her bones. She just could not figure out what it was that was bothering her.
The buildings were as she had remembered them, weathered and in need of some repair. Carefully she climbed up to stand on the bench as she raised a hand to shade her eyes.
There was no smoke rising from any of the chimneys. She was sure of it.
Jake Miller and his wife Annabelle would have had the fireplace of the Long Branch stoked and roaring on a day such as this. Even Henry the telegraph operator would have had his small wood stove piping hot as well. Unsure of how many others yet remained since she left, it was a given that there should have been fires burning somewhere.
The horses showed their collective displeasure by snorting and stomping their hooves in the snow, gently rocking the wagon beneath her. Steam from each breath rose above them.
Reluctantly, Abby sat down and released the brake. Once again, the team began pulling their load toward the silent town.
A year or so after the three women had settled in, someone had taken it upon themselves to label the town’s twin water towers with red paint; even if the entire town knew one was on the east side and the other on the west.
From that point on, each sported a crooked letter with a circle crudely painted around it. Alcohol had once again played its usual part in the misguided adventure.
Ever so gently, she guided the horses to a stop at the empty stables next to the west tower. Jumping down she gathered hay and laid it out for them to eat. Water would have to wait.
Without hesitation, she jumped back up onto the wagon to grab the rifle before walking up the silent street.
She wouldn’t need it to defend herself, but it was a practiced habit to act like a mortal whenever she could. Anyone watching might find it strange if she hadn’t been carrying it. A woman traveling alone across the wilderness would be foolish not to be carrying a firearm of some sort for protection.
By the time she reached the intersection that would take her toward the business district, the lack of activity in the town had really begun to bother her. She had little to fear as a vampire, but the strangeness of things around her was unsettling. That, and there were no tracks in the snow on the street ahead of her.
Looking back toward the stable, she could see her tracks, while the snow in front of her was clean and undisturbed.
There should have been tracks. There were always tracks when someone crossed the road from Poe’s office to the Long Branch or when they used the horses to collect firewood. Even Henry spent enough time visiting the Long Branch that he would have left tracks from his office. She couldn’t find any in the snow ahead of her.
A sudden noise caused habit to kick in as she levered a round and whirled to face the threat while falling into a crouched stance. The door to the old dress shop was open and gently swung in its frame.
“Stupid damn door...” She muttered lowering the hammer of the rifle to the safe position. Every hair on the back of her neck was suddenly standing at attention.
Using her vampire senses she opened her mind and tried to search the area as only a vampire could. There was absolutely nothing around her other than quiet empty buildings. She was as sure of it as she was sure something was terribly wrong. She would have sensed a heartbeat if one had been near.
Other than the team of horses behind her, they appeared to be alone in the town. The wind suddenly gusted through the street offering dancing snow devils to keep her company as they whirled from one building to another before collapsing.
Turning, she examined the buildings along the street. All the doors hung open like the door of the dress shop. If it had been summer that would not have been out of place. Now it raised more questions than she had answers.
Ever so slowly, she crossed the street and moved toward Poe’s office. He would have left something behind before leaving with the others. She was sure of it.
However, the mystery only deepened when she reached it. Drawers had been pulled out and tossed with papers strewn everywhere.
The empty gun rack drew her attention as she entered the office. The lock had a large gaping hole, which meant Poe had not been the one who had opened it. Boxes of ammunition had spilled when last pulled from the shelves as well. Bullets lay strewn across the floor mixed with the paper.
Whoever had done this had done so without Poe’s permission.
Moving further into the office, she walked through the jail cells only to find them empty and standing open. With each step, the silence became more ominous without any sign of either Poe or Valeria. Her sister would have left a note of some sort had she taken the rifles from the rack. The bullet hole in the lock reminded her that a vampire had not opened it. Had Valeria needed the rifles in a hurry, she could have simply ripped the chains from the wall or simply broken the lock rather than having had to shoot it open.
Stepping back out onto the boardwalk, she looked across the street at the Long Branch. The double doors were the only ones not left open that she could see.
Nothing moved on the street around her or behind the windows facing her. Although sure that she was alone, she had the rifle ready just the same. It had become a tool of comfort to calm her jumbled nerves.
It had been a long time since she had felt the painful stab of fear. The absolute silence of the town was really beginning to get to her.
With long quick strides, she crossed the street to stand before the closed doors of the Long Branch.
She turned her back to them, looking at the buildings across from her. Every door she found stood open, except the ones behind her.
Closing her eyes, she listened for anything that might indicate she had company. Nothing registered, not even rats.
Carefully, she reached out and turned the door handle. Pushing it open, she stepped back to wait. Then the unmistakable odor of death wafted out upon a breeze from within.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers, Jr.