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Hide and Seek

by Robert L. Sellers, Jr

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Part 1 appears
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part 2 of 2

All she had been left with was the faith in her order and the destiny the powers of the universe seemed to hold for her.

“Nadia, please come to me!”

The weak feminine voice, racked with pain and fear, called out from the nearby alley as Grace stood and listened. Sounds of movement from within were furtive and short.

Gentle sobs drew her to the form of a naked woman, as she lay prostrate in the dirt before her. Long blond hair full of dirt, her body had been disgraced and violated. Undoubtedly by the soldiers that were now long gone.

The woman’s hand reached out and tentatively grabbed her boot, as she wailed a name in hoarse whisper. “Nadia, is that you?”

Grace realized the woman was blind as she felt the fingers move over her boots and test the fabric of her skirts. Discovering the error through her fingers, the woman began to sob and begged for death.

Grace knelt, gently rolling the woman onto her back only to find her torn and bleeding from wounds made by the so-called armies of God. Like the others on the field outside of town, she would not survive long in her condition.

“Please? Help me find my sister Nadia... I beg of you!” The woman gasped as she fainted and her body relaxed, sprawled across the dirt at Grace’s feet.

Looking around at the devastation, Grace knew she had little choice. Had the woman not asked for help, she would have applied mercy; now there would be only one way to do as she asked.

Carefully Grace pulled the woman over and against her as she sat back against the broken wall of a building. Ever so gently, she pushed the woman’s head to one side exposing the soft line of her neck and the veins that ran just beneath her skin. Lowering extended fangs into the bruised flesh, Grace began to feed.

Time would tell if the help given would be appreciated or detested.

Listening to the woman’s heart begin to flutter, Grace pulled back and bit into her own wrist, carefully holding the open wound to the woman’s lips. Tentative at first as she tasted the blood that flowed freely, the woman’s hand came up to hold it tight against her mouth as she fed.

Relieved to feel the voraciousness of the woman, Grace gently ran fingers through her polluted blond hair removing bits of grime and debris. Perhaps this woman would find solace in her new life and leave the suffering of others like her behind.

Only time would tell, and they would have plenty of that to discover what answers lay in store.

* * *

Fall 1898: Goblin’s Toe, Wyoming

Making her way through the stillness of the town toward their home on the hill, Valeria remembered the initial moments of discovering what she had become. Along with the woman who introduced herself as Grace.

For the first time in her life, she could see her surroundings; strangely lit as they were, in a hue that she learned to call a smoked orange from Grace and others like her. She found that humans and other life forms glowed with an aura of life energy that made them easily seen and targeted for sustenance when she needed it. The stronger the hunger, the more acute her vision became, something Grace told her was part of their predatory nature.

They had searched for but never found what remained of Nadia or her father. She could only hope the soldiers had taken Nadia with them and had kept her alive. However, trailing the moving men for weeks had not given evidence that her sister was traveling among them.

Reluctantly they had turned from the men after taking several for feeding. Grace then began an education that would continue for centuries.

By pure chance of happenstance, they had settled in this town for several years and had come to call it their home.

Moving into a mansion made available to them, she had taken up artwork and even taught several students from within the large drawing room it contained.

Built by one of the original owners of the mine, the sprawling two-story mansion sat upon a hill overlooking the town. Its features included a wide wrap around porch, tall narrow windows covered in vines and a widow’s walk that faced the mine.

She had spent countless hours with students perched upon the widow’s walk, drawing and painting the town below them.

When alone, she enjoyed the sounds of what life remained in the town, carried as they were by the wind to her ears. She often quizzed herself identifying what her nose picked up from the same wind.

A long winding drive provided seclusion; it was protected by iron fences topped with spikes that encircled the entire property.

Her students and other locals had often told her the mansion looked haunted when approached from town. However, even on a night such as this, she found the familiarity of the grounds as warming as they could be to a vampire such as herself.

Her carriage, a black drop-front Phaeton, sat ready just short of the front entrance. The two long shafts that lay resting on the ground would attach to her stallion Pegasus.

Particular in her choice of the young colt she had found the name Pegasus to be fitting. The thoroughbred was a volatile mix of Tennessee Walker and Pacer bloodlines.

Coal black, he sported a diamond-shaped patch of white set in the center his forehead. The horse had taken to her without much effort, living up to his name with quick speed and durability.

Tonight she would rest, and then in the morning pick up supplies that would help her pass the time with her art as there would be no more students to come calling.

With the closing of the mine came the loss of those who had supported it. Like a bleeding wound, the population bled out fast and then slowed as the final drops pooled behind.

Emily’s family would be the last that would leave. Those who remained knew they held on to their existence with the barest of grip.

With the loss of the companionship Emily had offered, life would undoubtedly become less lively than it had been.

She could only hope the arrival of her sister Abigail, who was on her way back from California, would offer a brightness she suddenly found herself lacking.

However, she realized with a smile, Abigai’s arrival was still days away and she had much work to do before her sister arrived. There was unfinished artwork to complete before the home would be ready and waiting to greet Abigail properly.

After the short trip, Valeria would use what time she had left to complete her tasks as best she could.

* * *

Henry, the town’s telegraph operator, was just closing his door when he heard the familiar sounds of Pegasus and the buggy he usually pulled as it rolled to a stop nearby.

Startled to find himself straightening the visor he wore wrapped around his short mop of brown hair, he quickly moved his fingers to the rims of his spectacles. He found himself embarrassed to have been caught pruning.

He tried not to let on that he found himself enchanted with Valeria Dorchester. Even if she was a centuries-old vampire and completely blind he found her softly-etched features beneath long golden hair something of a masterpiece of nature in female form.

“Why Henry, I was just going to stop in and see if you’ve had word from Abigail,” she said in that soft foreign accent he loved hearing. Her smile warmed him as he moved to the rail.

“No ma’am, at least not as of this morning,” he replied, watching as Pegasus turned his head and looked at him as if questioning why he was holding them up.

“I’ll send Sheriff Poe up once word has arrived,” he offered.

“Have you seen Poe this morning yet?” she asked, looking directly at him. She often appeared to be a woman with sight even though he knew she had only vampire sight to help her.

“He’s up helping Sheriff Monroe with a prisoner transfer and should be back late this afternoon yet. Should I pass on a message?”

“No, Pegasus and I are going for supplies and will check back this evening as well,” she answered as she turned to face the street ahead. “Just about time for winter isn’t it?”

“I hear rumors of snow, but that would only be west of us. I hope it stays there.” he said, then wincing as he remembered where Valeria’s sister was. “Sorry, at least away from where Abigail is traveling.”

Recognizing the tone of embarrassment in his voice, Valeria turned and smiled. “No worries. She is old enough to know how to handle such things. Have a nice day now,” she replied, gently snapping the reins as Pegasus moved forward.

Pulling out his pocket watch, Henry realized he would have just enough time to get breakfast at the Long Branch. Crossing the street, he felt his stomach growl longingly for Annabelle’s pancakes. Perhaps Megan would not notice if he let her win their game of checkers while he ate.

Passing the empty Sheriff’s office, Valeria’s thoughts turned to Sheriff Poe, who’d made them welcome in a place she would never have guessed they would have called their home.

Had it not been for the accident of his crossing Abigail’s path late one night as she fed, they might only have spent the one night, rather than the years they had.

Her fingers held memories of his long soft hair and creased features etched by the wind along with a curled beard and full lips that she’d been told made him look older than he actually was.

Both Abigail and Grace had mentioned that one look into his sharp pearl gray eyes, 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 this town of theirs.

Perhaps she would pick up some of his favored whiskey and deliver it upon her return, keeping him company in his office as she often did.

Little excitement came through town these days, and she doubted much would change while she was gone for such a short trip.

* * *

The seven weathered men sat in their saddles, quietly watching the black horse lead the buggy through the far end of town.

Roughnecks all, they bore the image of strength buried in grime. Covered in dust and dirt from the trail, they almost looked ghostlike.

“Hosse, should I go fetch her back?” the younger James brother asked, his youth once again revealing itself in the question.

“What the hell for, boy?” Allen “Hosse” Kieran scolded the often-daft red head. “You remember what Moorhen said, she’s as blind as a bat. Didn’t look like no packing was done, I’ll bet she’ll be back before evening.”

They had ridden up from Cheyenne to claim the gold that Moorhen had told them was hidden inside the now empty mine.

“Just ask the old codger they pinned as sheriff and he’ll show you,” the drunken man had slurred with a tilted smile just the evening before.

“What are we waiting for?” the older James asked, his bald head sweating as he held his hat in one hand and rubbing the other over his scalp.

Kieran sighed in frustration. The tall lanky army toss-out had enjoyed taking whatever it was he hadn’t needed to earn. If he’d have thought the James brothers’ company was going to be this much trouble, he’d have thought twice about asking them along.

The low whistle of the ever-watchful Martin brought Kieran’s eyes to the front of the Long Branch as a catching young woman stepped out to sweep the walk in front of the doors. Even at their distance, the lines of her dress told stories of what lay beneath it; and long brown hair flowed in a mane across her back.

“Would love to get me a piece of that filly,” his longtime partner said in a low voice filled with dark humor and lust. Kieran noticed the attention all were paying to the woman with the broom. Perhaps she would be a bonus.

“Maybe after,” Kieran replied, “but first the telegrapher needs to finish his breakfast and get back before others down the line send their daily messages.”

Each man pulled out their six-shooters and checked that they were loaded properly and ready. There was gold to be had, and damn if they were not going to be the ones to get it. Along with any other pleasures there were to be had.

“Patience boys, everything will be ours in good time,” Kieran said evenly, as the men watched the young woman almost dance with the broom. “I do believe I just may give her a go myself, if you boys don’t mind her warmed up a bit for you,” Kieran said wryly.

The laughter seemed to float down the road as the woman continued to sweep and made plans for the stage that she would never take.

* * *

By the time evening arrived that day, the town would be as lifeless as a corpse riddled with mystery and blanketed in the silence of a graveyard, all because of a drunken lie that led killers to believe gold lay hidden in the depths of the infamous Donnetelli Scaggs mine. Anyone who knew better would have told them that only death waited in the pitch black you found once you left the opening and descended into its cool depths.

Unfortunately, the roughriders had never thought to ask, and never would. They simply found that deep beneath the earth, no one could hear you scream once you ran out of bullets. The Donnetelli Scaggs mine simply claimed them as it had others before and others that were yet to come.

However, that is another story for another time, about ghost towns and death in the Weird Wild West.

Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers, Jr

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