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Dead Speak

Part 1 of 3

Published in original form: Bewildering Stories issue #168

Fall, 1898 / Goblin’s Toe, Wyoming

Thick fog of unconsciousness faded as the vampire Valeria began to take stock of her situation; 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.

Her 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.

Lack of experience had been telling when the concussion from the blast picked her up and slammed her hard against the unforgiving surface of the rock wall, knocking her senseless. Fortunately long blond hair billowed forward acting as protection when the heat and debris erupted to cover her.

It was painfully clear now why the men 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 properly set.

Listening intently, she sought sound from anything and everything nearby; remembering that one of the humanoid creatures almost made it to her when the dynamite ripped it apart; its abrupt high pitched scream of agony now just a haunting echo that lingered in the darkness.

Blind without vampiric sight, she’d learned early in life to rely on other improved senses to tell 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. Setting aside the plunger box, she placed 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 now 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.

Valeria smiled in the darkness, realizing she wasn’t as upset as she should be if she was worrying about her looks. Vanity often holding 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 head in regret. She’d been so busy leading away the humanoid creatures stalking her that she’d forgotten Poe in the side tunnel above.

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 sire would not connect as it should have. Valeria 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. Although she could see; it would never be as clear as she often wished her vision could be.

The once ragged wound that fed Poe appeared to be almost fully healed.

When Valeria first asked Grace about the new sight and described what she could see, her sire smiled and explained how someone with normal sight would find it improved 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 see him again; tons of rock now blocked her only route to him.

The day had started out so well. Returning from a trip to gather art supplies, she’d been preparing projects for the coming winter; setting up her easels, paints and brushes around the drawing room of the mansion. It was a yearly ritual before the heavy snow moved in and secluded them from any travel until the spring.

Sudden staccato gunfire from the direction of the mine startled her from her tasks, drawing her from the mansion and down through the quiet town.

When the mine finally ceased production just three years before, most of the population moved on; leaving just enough to maintain what little there was to maintain. She found Sheriff Poe’s office empty, leading her to assume that he’d already gone ahead to investigate.

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 found several sets of tracks in the dirt leading into the cool darkness ahead.

The sound of horses nearby led her to where she found Poe’s horse tied with several others that were unfamiliar to her. With so few left 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 forced Poe to take them into the mine for reasons that she could not fathom. As far as she knew there 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. Valeria hadn’t been joking when she 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 came from; her fingers finding discarded pistol shells in the dirt left behind from a hasty reload.

Knowledge of the mine, along with her guess of Poe’s intent, led her to his prostrate form at the bottom of the number two shaft. As her fingers explored, they revealed injuries that told her just how badly Poe was hurt from his 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 crossed that of her sister Abigail. A rare individual that wasn’t 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 came from his first run in with one of their kind, leaving him crippled from an errant bullet in the process.

With faint sounds of the men in search of Poe nearby, 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 been the first time Poe let her feed from him, his blood carried the familiar taste of a fine wine. She held him against her, pulling his life entirely before offering her wrist to give him life anew.

Once Valeria was convinced that he would survive, she carried him from the shaft and up through the mine. Sudden gunfire and screams just ahead led her to leave him in a side tunnel as she moved to investigate.

The scene she’d found was horrifying even for her; small 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; pleading with her through locks of red hair pasted across his forehead.

What sound she’d made was enough for them to drop whatever it was that they were eating, as the creatures moved quickly to chase her back and deeper into the mine.

Descending as fast as she could, she’d come across several cases of dynamite left resting at the bottom of the mine. Frantically clawing them open, she 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 last wire to the plunger when they 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 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 succeeded better than she would have thought they would. Her vampire vision combined with the quiet rock told her she was definitely on her own now.

Pulling herself to her feet, Valeria kept one hand against the side of the tunnel as she began to explore her new home.

*   *   *

The tunnel was much larger than she initially thought; expanding deeper into the unforgiving rock before abruptly ending as she assumed it would.

Once she made the round trip from the cave-in to the dead-end and back, Valeria carefully paced it off as she mentally formed a more exact picture of where she was.

Using her hands as measurement, she 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 anytime 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 fade away and die like mortals might under the same circumstances. Without the need to oxygenate her blood using lungs, she wouldn’t 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 and slowly shut down.

At least she wasn’t in a regular coffin or crypt; that much she could appreciate.

There were stories of vampires found centuries later that literally clawed their fingers to less than stubs as they wilted away. Pushing such thoughts away as best she could, Valeria began to fill in details of the picture she now had of her surroundings.

Eventually, as boredom set in, she began 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 ended, she found what appeared to be a weak rock facade; when broken open it revealed the gaping mouth of another shaft 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. She couldn’t recall any sort of construction being done in the mine for years.

Dropping small rocks told her nothing of what lay deep beneath her, and unless she jumped there didn’t seem much of a way to climb down.

Standing at the edge, she closed her eyes, said a short prayer and did just that; keeping her arms crossed over her chest to protect herself as well as crossing her ankles to keep her legs straight and together.

Unlike the short-drop of the hangman, this would be a leap of faith that only a vampire might survive.

The irony of that was not lost on her as she fell further into the darkness below.

* * *

Continued


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

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