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September 26, 2022

Heading Further West

By Lydia Manx

The night air was still and the scattered fires were carefully banked around the makeshift campground just outside the town proper. The smells were no longer overwhelming, but Jenny knew it was because her nose had begun to block out the various aromas. If she were to walk further down the road and come back she would find the stench as unpleasant as it had been hours ago when her family first had arrived. She still couldn't believe Molly. Well she could, but was afraid to hope.

"You, Jenny Foley?" Ned approached the frail travel-worn woman slowly. Jenny was still confused by the bizarre evening's events and holding herself upright by sheer will and determination. Her lean arms were wrapped around and her chapped hands were clasping her elbows. The threadbare clothing wasn't keeping her warm in any manner. She still was shaking from the night chill and the unexpected company.

"Yes, I'm missus Foley," she nodded her head cautiously towards the huge man. Even as filled as the camp was, she knew that folks minded their own business. It took more than a few screams and whimpers to attract any attention from fellow travelers. Humanity had taken far too many blows over the years since the war. Folks weren't as likely to come when strangers called out. Trust wasn't something freely given any more.

This man was even bigger than Johnny. Johnny was a few inches over six feet and the newcomer was at least six and half feet tall. The slicked back hair seemed to make his forehead more pronounced and his hat in hand did little to make him appear safe. He was trying to look non-threatening but he was failing miserably. She didn't think she had enough energy to run if he decided to harm her.

Jenny still couldn't believe that Johnny had abandoned Ben and her. Molly said he talked to her, and he'd decided he was a burden. She couldn't remember a time Johnny ever gave thought to anyone but his own self. Molly seemed to take such a pronouncement in stride. It was like men ran away from their families every day in Molly's world. Molly flashed Jenny her crooked smile as if she could hear Jenny's thoughts and found them amusing. That smile had Jenny wondering if men did run away from Molly or with her. Molly was something different than the average wife looking for a spare minute in her evening to relax after traveling for days on hard dusty roads with fears and stories the only thing keeping a woman up. Molly's profession as a dance hall girl was definitely something Jenny didn't have a clue about -- other than whispered stories she'd heard. And she well knew that some folks tended to exaggerate around a campfire.

Johnny certainly hadn't cared for Molly, and Jenny wondered how it was he came to tell her such a sorrowful bit of news. Johnny wasn't much for talking, much less to total strangers. The stuff he'd called Molly didn't seem to make her a friend. Calling her a whore in front of Ben no less!

Ned straightened up and seemed to catch Jenny's thoughts.

"Pardon my interruption, ladies. I am Edward Covington. I had the opportunity to play a few games of chance with a mister Foley. He said that his family was in this field." Ned ducked his head and fingered his cap as if nervous. Obviously the large man knew without flashing his fangs how frightening he'd appear.

Ned saw that Molly was sitting close to Jenny -- hell she was huddled nearly under her shoulder supping down the fears edging out of the woman. Confusion was purely delicious adding into the fears drifting around the fire with the smoke and ash. It was all Ned could do to not fang in immediately and solve their little problem. Molly was shooting him a glare and warning him to be good. Like he'd been the one who drained Johnny?

There was a muffled cry, and Jenny popped up and looked to where her son was curled in for the night, and she relaxed a bit when she saw that he was still deep asleep. After seeing that it wasn't her child crying out, she settled back down and plucked at her skirt. Molly hadn't resumed the posture next to the human but Ned could see the glint of hunger gnawing at her. Her draining of Johnny had already been forgotten and she was interested in making Jenny family. A vampiric family at that. Hell only knew her plans for the boy. Even Molly wasn't stupid enough to turn a child. Unaware of how Molly's mind was traveling, Jenny fussed some bits of grass off her clothing she'd picked up when running after her son. She looked up at Ned and waited for him to tell her why he'd looked her up.

"I felt bad cause of how poorly your husband lost. Usually I don't care much when I see a man lose, 'cause folks who go to play know they may not win, but your man didn't seem to be in his right frame of mind. When he started putting down jewelry, I was worried. He'd been drinking pretty fast and was betting foolishly." Ned chanced a peek to see how his tale was going down. Jenny wasn't even looking. She'd resumed her pulling the dry grasses off her clothing.

Ned decided to give Jenny the hidden jewelry he'd stripped off of Johnny's corpse before he'd dumped him in the abandoned hole. Jenny deserved a break and Molly was acting more and more erratic lately. Ned might have to do some major apologizing to Molly later for doing it without asking, but she'd come around once he finished his story.

Molly wasn't sure where he was going with the conversation and shot him a look. He pretended not to see it. Jenny noticed the silence and looked up again to see the puzzled look on Molly's face.

"Yes, Mister Covington, my Johnny does like his liquor. How can I help you?" Jenny wasn't sure where Ned was going with his discussion of her husband's bad gambling. It wasn't like it was news to her. She'd been beaten nearly the whole way across the States, easily discovering how rotten Johnny's temper got when drunk and losing. And he was awfully good at both -- drinking and losing. She didn't need some winner coming over and rubbing her nose in it.

As if hearing her thoughts Ned quickly added, "I'm not here to gloat. I can't rest thinking about how poorly he played. I was coming over to see if he'd take back the personal jewelry since we were out of the saloon and there was nobody to mock him or take me for a fool when I overheard him tell this lady he wasn't staying, and that he'd send something with a miner. I don't rightly think he had anything left for anyone. I think he just wanted this lady to comfort you."

Jenny's expression was still puzzled as she tried to follow Ned's words. She didn't realize Johnny had any sort of jewelry left. He'd long sold off her mother's ring she'd had most of her life. Her jaw ached as she clenched her back molars together. She tried to smile, but knew it wasn't very convincing. Her exhaustion from the day and long night was draping over her pulling her towards sleep.

"What are you telling me?" Blinking rapidly, Jenny finally straight out asked. She couldn't place any meaning on the words and wasn't sure if she understood what he was saying. It was like her brain wasn't working right.

"Oh, pardon me. I have some pieces of jewelry I don't feel right keeping. A wedding ring and a locket." He fished out the gold from his pocket and handed them to a reluctant Jenny. Jenny's gasp set Molly's teeth on edge. Now she was holding her jaw tight and trying to keep from fanging into the now emotional Jenny.

"Mother's wedding ring. He said he sold it." Tears brimmed and Jenny blinked, trying to appear calmer. It didn't work. Both vampires knew she was awash in emotions and angry memories of her brutal husband.

A crunching sound and a man approached the still active campfire. Both the vampires froze. They'd thought they were alone. A clinking sound trailed the human approaching. It took a minute for Ned to figure out what the sound was. A sharp medicinal smell accompanied the man. Ned guessed it was bottles clanking side by side in a box. Sure enough the man was carrying a wooden box approaching with a large grin on his face.

"Evening folks," the voice boomed out, startling Jenny who hadn't been paying attention. She started just a bit and looked up with huge frightened eyes. Molly bristled, already protective of her newest pet human. Molly's plans were shifting and a willing victim was always welcome. Ned remained where he was and allowed the human to approach without saying anything.

Nobody said anything.

"I was drawn by your inviting fire," he spoke loudly, as if used to speaking to larger crowds. Some rustling from nearby wagons was accompanied by some grumbles and not so polite requests for silence.

Taking the silence as an invitation he walked closer. The bottles bounced with him. He was an arm's length from Ned and even closer to Molly and Jenny. Jenny's son, Ben, was still sleeping beyond them furthest from the newcomer and hopefully safer.

"I'm Kevin Erdman." His voice was softer and nearly at a normal conversational level. Still there was something about the man that was false. Jenny saw everyone looking at her. How she came to have all these people around her was confusing her. Her fingers were tightly clenched around the ring and locket Ned had given her. She wanted time to absorb all the blows. Johnny had left her and Ben. Johnny had kept her mother's ring and the locket. She wasn't willing to open it in front of all these strangers to see if the pictures were still inside.

"What do you want?" Molly took the initiative and growled fiercely at the intruder. Her conflict was plain to read. Ned knew she wanted Jenny to herself and Erdman's arrival was giving her too many choices. He still remembered how poorly she'd handled that a few towns back. She lost complete control. Her spree killings were still being talked about in whispers by fellow travelers. Another lengthy rampage was sure to attract unwelcome notice.

"Why little lady. I'll tell you what I want. I, Professor Kevin Erdman, want to help you. Help you sleep better at night. Help you wake up in the morning delighted -- refreshed and ready to face the day," his tone was readily identifiable as a snake oil salesman's spiel.

"What if I don't want to sleep at night? What if I want to sleep all day?" Molly smiled and looked at the man. He wasn't someone she knew from town but his patter was familiar to her. Folks selling things was common in the camps. A ready-made audience and no way to track him down later and complain if the elixir failed to meet one of the many promises. The tonic he was pedaling was pungent to the vampires and even Jenny sneezed as his scent drifted over the fire. Medicinal and acidic with a hint of fear. The fear was making both Ned and Molly edgy.

Ned met Molly's eyes. Reluctantly she nodded her permission and Ned moved towards Kevin Erdman with purpose. He didn't really need to ask her but she'd been so moody lately he figured it was in his best interest to keep her somewhat appeased.

"Professor, why don't we take a walk? It was nice meeting you two lovely women." He sketched them a slight bow and took his leave. Jenny nodded her approval as Ned joined the man. His arm went around Kevin's shoulders and the large vampire nearly lifted the man out of his boots.

"Why, yes, of course, my good man. This medicine is one of the strongest available. I dare not even offer it to children or women with weak hearts. You are a fine strapping man and appear to be of a strong constitution. What can my potion possibly do for you? Are there some perhaps troubles of a male complaint? This will stiffen you up and put you right!" The man stumbled over his own feet from the speed at which Ned propelled him away from the camp. Their brisk walk was accompanied by the musical tone of glassware tapping each other in the wooden crate. The whole time they left the area Jenny could hear the peddler talking rapidly in a wheedling tone.

Molly smiled and patted a spot next to her on the coarse bench. "Come, let's talk." Sleepily Jenny nodded and edged towards her side. Molly made her feel safe. She didn't know why.

Ned heard Molly's invitation as the human prattled in his ear. He worried what would come of Molly's pet but he had to feed his hungers just the same.

"What say I let you meet my partner Johnny? He is a quiet man, but I think you can find some thing in common with him. He's just up ahead keeping a spot warm for me." Professor Erdman smiled widely showing his lack of back teeth. They'd cleared the edge of camp and Ned returned the favor, smiling showing his now longer teeth. The night definitely was looking up, Ned thought as he slipped his fangs into Erdman's throat. He hoped that Johnny wouldn't mind sharing his grave.

Not that either would get a choice. The man's blood was foul with his 'tonic'. Alcohol and acidic poisons seemed to be the main ingredients of the elixir. Stuff like that could kill a man if there wasn't a vampire around to help. Ned happily assisted the conman to his death.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-05-28
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