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Ghost Town

Part 3 of 3

Published: Bewildering Stories issue #175

* * *

They had spent the night standing in that alcove, without conversation or further explanation passing between them. Every so often, she sensed something nearby in the tunnel, but other than that, only the constant drip of water disturbed the silence around them.

Hours passed before Poe apparently sensed something that she could not. Ever so gently, he pushed her from the alcove and they made their way quickly toward the surface. As far a she could determine, nothing had followed them.

With patient reluctance, she trailed just behind him when he failed to stop at the entrance. Without looking back, he made his way down through town and toward the road that would lead to her home. The sun was climbing high and it looked to be another beautiful yet frigid day.

His silence continued when they reached the mansion, where he climbed the stairs to the top floor before finally climbing out onto the widows walk. She found she had no choice other than following him out onto the narrow walkway if she wanted to get answers to her questions.

They stood together at the rail looking out over the town below and the entrance to the mine across from them. He seemed to be looking for something below.

“Do you remember Michael Moorhen, Abby?”

Michael Moorhen had been the thug that she had been feeding from when they had first met. At the time, she hadn’t intended to make the overly gregarious man a meal until she had found herself pinned against the alley wall and he had begun to grope her. Apparently, while in a drunken stupor, he had mistaken her for one of the women from the bordello and had been looking for a freebie.

“Does he have something to do with what happened?”

“Indirectly, as it would appear,” Poe replied, looking relieved by whatever it was he hadn’t seen below. “He moved on to Cheyenne and decided to start a rumor that there was gold stashed in that mine and I’m the only one who knows where it is.”

“Poe, where is Valeria?” she asked evenly.

He turned and looked at her, his eyes filled with sadness. “I have a suspicion that she’s dead and gone, Abby.”

Until he said it aloud, she hadn’t realized she had come to the same conclusion and was already starting to accept it. “And you believe this why?” she asked, staving off waves of grief that would have to wait.

“They’re all dead, aren’t they,” he replied, looking out over the town. “I don’t see any smoke. On a day like this they wouldn’t tolerate the cold as we can.”

She nodded without saying a word.

Poe shook his head with regret etched into his features. “It looks like some men came looking for the gold while I was off helping Sheriff Monroe transport a prisoner. They took me to the mine when I got back. Buggers jumped me just outside of town. Threatened to kill the other people if I didn’t cooperate. Luckily, mines can be dangerous and unpredictable if you don’t know where you’re going. I guess I already suspected they had taken care of any witnesses that might be able to describe them.”

“Poe, where is Valeria?” she repeated evenly, keeping the urge to know her sister’s fate under control.

“I managed to get away from them only to stumble into the number two shaft in the dark. If there hadn’t been an elevator to carry supplies I probably would have died when I hit bottom. As it was I was hurt pretty bad when I landed.”

Abby closed her eyes imagining the terror of falling into the darkness of a mineshaft; not knowing where the bottom would be or if there was going to be one. At least she would have been able to find her way out eventually, even with the severest of injuries. vampires could survive extremes that would otherwise prove fatal to their mortal counterparts.

“She must have come back from her supply run and discovered whatever had happened in town. When I finally passed out from pain, I was still stuck down in that shaft and in desperate straits. I figured I was a goner and would die there on that elevator. I woke up to find myself lying in one the side tunnels. That’s when I realized what I had become. Blood lust in the dark is a bitch. But you probably already knew that.”

“You have no idea how sorry I am, Poe. Valeria shouldn’t have done that without asking first.”

She watched him shrug off her statement. “You know your sister, as well as I do Abby. She was an artist more than a killer, and wouldn’t have let me die any more than you probably would have. Even vampires can be stubborn if I’d venture a guess. Grace maybe could have, but definitely not the two of you. It’s something that becoming a vampire just wouldn’t change.”

He was right. Grace could have easily left him there to die knowing how much he disliked the idea of becoming a vampire. In the end, she would have simply put him out of his misery as quickly as possible.

“I was making my way toward the surface when tremors shook the whole damn mountain. The kind that usually mean there was a big cave-in somewhere. I searched, but I couldn’t find Valeria anywhere, and then those things showed up. I assumed she must have been caught in a rock slide deep in the mountain.”

She shuddered inwardly at the thought of her worst nightmare. “Are you absolutely sure that she’s dead, Poe?”

“A couple days ago someone came back looking for me. Well, then again they could have been more concerned for the gold, who knows. Whoever it was must have found those things or they found him. There were screams and a lot of gunfire. When I went to look, there wasn’t hide nor hair of them. Believe me, I’ve searched this place ever since and haven’t found sign of your sister anywhere. I’m truly sorry for your loss, Abby.”

Her eyes narrowed when she realized he had been in the mine the entire time. “Poe, what exactly have you been feeding on since you woke up in that tunnel?”

“Just the animals I managed to find here and there when the urge arose. Couple of times I had to go out into the woods for dinner. Initially it was disgusting to find rats could serve as a meal, but one has to do what one has to do. Why, is there something else I need to know?”

She understood now why she had not able to sense his presence, as she would have with other vampires. Even now, if she closed her eyes he was just a blank spot to her vampiric senses.

Poe had become a Carouche. The kind of vampire that was able to feed only upon animals. He hadn’t had human blood during the change.

“Are you familiar with harmonics?” she finally asked with sadness.

He nodded. “Something about sound and what you can hear. Like a dog whistle and how it works on dogs. Why?”

“Vampires who drink human blood for their first feed can tolerate animal blood for short periods, while those who drink animal blood initially can only drink animal blood; ever. If you don’t initially feed upon human blood you won’t be able to.”

She watched confusion form on his features. She decided to try a different tack. “To me, animal blood is like syrup and requires more to sustain me than the thinner blood of humans. Unfortunately, by now, your body will have become accustomed to processing animal blood when you feed. You wouldn’t find the same nourishment from human blood in the same small quantities that I can. It would seem like weak sugar water if that makes any sense.”

Poe smiled. “That’s not as bad as you might think Abby. I was not looking forward to feeding on humans anyway. I still don’t understand what you meant about harmonics though. What does sound have to do with what kind of blood we need to survive?”

She struggled to think of a way to describe the problem. “Your senses will sharpen to sense both other vampires as well as prey. Unfortunately, animal blood and human blood differ enough in energy level that vampires who require animal blood cannot sense those who feed upon humans.”

“That also goes for vampires who drink human blood. If I closed my eyes right now, I wouldn’t know you were standing there. I didn’t know you were behind me in the mine until you grabbed me.”

“Harmonics are the only thing I can think of that would be close enough to understand. In terms of harmonics I simply can’t hear you as far as vampires senses are concerned, or you me, as I have been led to suspect.”

They stood silent as Poe digested what she had told him. He turned to face the town and sighed. “Don’t suppose you have any idea what those things in the mine are. From what I could see of them they look like damned kids with fangs but twice as deadly. I’d almost say they were more dangerous than most vampires I’ve met. No offense.”

“None taken. Grace might have ideas about them, but she won’t be back until spring.”

“Probably should get to burying the dead then.”

Abby nodded, looking at the mine entrance.

“When that’s done, I want to hunt down the men that did this,” he said evenly.

Abby remained silent as she thought of her sister’s body buried deep within the mountain and the men who had led to her being there.

“I better keep wearing this brace; we might run across someone who remembers that I used to need one.” he mused.

“I see you’re already learning how to deal with mortals,” she replied with a smile.

* * *

They used pick axes to break through the permafrost that had formed and buried the bodies in a patch of ground behind the Long Branch.

She found humor when she caught Poe hesitating when he reached for a bible. “That’s one of those old wives’ tales, Poe. Bibles and crosses only hurt when someone throws them at you.” She listened as he began to read verses over the first grave while she rolled the final blanket wrapped body into the ground.

It wasn’t until they returned to the mansion to clean up that she remembered the rifle. He seemed impressed when she showed him how accurate it could be.

Between the two of them, they cleaned up the damage as best they could and even replaced the broken window in the Long Branch. By the time they finished, the town had been restored to what they considered as normal as it would get.

Every building in town now had their doors securely latched.

Nothing seemed to venture out from the mine while they worked during the day or kept watch after dark. Perhaps whatever it was that they had found was not partial to cold weather. They would know for certain when spring arrived.

An inquiry sent to surrounding towns by telegraph resulted in a middle-aged Irish couple who arrived with horse and carriage to become the new caretakers for the town.

Melinda “Katie” O’Fallon and her husband Charles quickly settled into the Long Branch and learned what it would take to keep the place going during the cold months ahead. It wasn’t long until they expressed interest in staying on through the summer and perhaps the next winter as well, if everything worked out.

Katie, as she preferred to be called, quickly set about organizing the kitchen, while Charles familiarized himself with the pumps, wood supply and the assorted tools that could be found.

He even managed to run a length of wire from the empty telegraph office to the Long Branch that would allow him to parlay his rusty telegraph experience into usefulness once again. They wouldn’t be entirely cut off once the heavy snow had set in and he suggested under his breath that Katie might even be able to master it given time and a whole lot of patience on his part.

A loaded, double barrel shotgun was now within easy reach beneath the bar while two rifles and a handgun were in a rack just inside the kitchen door.

Supplies were unloaded from the wagon and replaced with bags of sand. The extra weight would help keep the wagon stable if they had to travel through snow.

The last thing Abby did before leaving the mansion was to burn the note she had left for Grace that she had written before entering the mine. She left another in its place so that Grace would at least know what they were doing if they were not back by spring.

Along with the note, she left sketches she had done of the men Poe had described to her in detail. Not quite the artist as Valeria was, he thought she had done a fashionable job.

She folded duplicates she had made of the sketches into a pouch in case they needed to show someone exactly who it was that they were looking for.

The stars shone brightly overhead as she made her way to the stables. Perhaps they would prove to be a good omen.

She was surprised not to find the new rifle she had brought for Poe sitting with his old carbine in the wagons weapon rack when she joined him.

“Look who I found,” he said with a smile, indicating something behind her.

Pegasus stood saddled and ready, with the model ninety-four strapped to the saddle. With joyous relief, she walked over to stroke the head of her old friend. He appeared just as happy to see her, as she was to see him.

“He must have wondered off when the mountain rumbled with the landslide. Seems only fitting that you should ride him given your sister and all. You also fit that rifle well enough that I’ll stick to my carbine for the time being.”

Fed and watered, the mares appeared ready to get on with their task as much as Poe and Abby were.

“If you plan to argue about the rifle, consider it a loan.”

Letting out a sharp whistle, he gently pulled on the reins; turning the team and wagon around before heading through town.

Abby moved around Pegasus and climbed into the saddle, gently nudging him forward to follow alongside the wagon.

As they headed toward the east water tower with its crooked letter E circled in red paint, he asked a question of her that he had been pondering since they finished burying the bodies. “Would a messy death make them regret what they’ve done properly? Or would any death just be too easy for them.”

“Leave that to me when we find them,” Abby replied evenly as they passed by the warmly lit windows of the Long Branch. “I’m going to make them wish they were dead and then not kill them. More fun that way. If they want to die on their own, that will be their business.”

Both looked up to watch as smoke rose into the night from the chimney of the Long Branch. The town would have at least a small spark of life in it while they were gone.

“I don’t suppose learning how you plan to do that will be a bad thing to know.”

“Waste not, want not seems like a good policy. I forget who it was that told me that.”

“I’ve heard that’s a good policy, too,” he replied with a smile.

Snapping the reins, the wagon jerked forward as they rode off into the light of the full moon with Pegasus assuming the lead as his cloaked rider urged him on.

* * *

The End

Copyright © 2004, 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr. All rights reserved.
Please do not use without permission of the author.

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