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January 23, 2023

Heading Towards the End of the Trail 4

By Lydia Manx

Leon stood by the fire and watched his son, Daniel, come to terms with what was happening. The leather satchel in his hand felt like an old comfortable shoe. It fit perfectly and was smooth and recognizable. Ancient oaths that bound his family for as far back as written and spoken words went made him and his what they were. They were monster hunters. It didn't matter what the monsters were. Rituals and knowledge gave their family an edge for all humanity. Because that was what they protected -- the human race -- the entire world with their blood oaths. The irony of that wasn't lost on Leon. Blood chasing blood in a way.

Daniel looked into his father's eyes and saw the conviction and knowledge. A shiver ran down his spine and he tried to look caring. He thought that his father had left the monster chasing behind him with his castle and ruined world. But it appeared to be chasing them. Doubts ate at his mind, as he'd seen nothing in the town that was odd. Other than the greed of humans and the levels of debauchery and depravity that ran rampant in the gutters. But then that had been the way of these start-up towns in the middle of the trail on the way to the promised hills filled with riches and unimaginable wealth.

"Father, this can't be here."

His tones were solid and rational.

Leon laughed dryly and coughed roughly. "Daniel, I know what this is here. It's poison. It doesn't matter what flavor of poison. It means death no matter how you measure."

Daniel paced around the fire watching his strong father add wood and stir up embers. As the sparks flew upwards into the black night Daniel felt bittersweet, knowing that in what had come to pass he had no control over in any way. Any more than when Leah, his beloved wife, had died from the fever. That helplessness ate at his heart and he saw his son, Nate, in the distance chasing after the other boy, Ben. A flash of resentment made him feel even smaller. How could he begrudge a child his due? Not to mention his own child?

"What do we need to do?" Daniel rose to the occasion and looked directly into his father's face.

Leon nodded and stabbed once more at the wood. Fireflies of flames rose up and scattered. The wood they had collected was dry and filled with bits of insects. The crackling wasn't just from the dead tree branches. The smoke was scented with an earthy aroma not unpleasant.

"We do what we were bidden to do for all the ages. We kill the monsters and rescue other humans." His tone was solemn, and Daniel's mouth ran dry thinking of all the various rituals he'd learned as a young man. His father began his training when he'd hit his twelfth year, and as they both were watching his son who was a few years younger than he'd been back so many years ago and he wondered how he could do that to Nate. The strength it took to tell your child that there really were monsters that went bump in the night seemed more than he could comprehend. Leon was braver than he in many ways.

"It's what we do." He said back.

His voice was stronger than he expected, but Leon beamed as if he'd shouted it from the highest mountaintop. It was then he saw the cross on his father's chest. A chill of dread ran down his spine. The gold seemed to glow from within and ice-cold fear chased nipping at Daniel's bravado. Freezing in the sultry night air Daniel now knew there really were monsters. Something he hadn't truly believed until just that moment.

Leon missed his son's flash of insight. He was just relieved that Daniel hadn't mocked his heritage. Stirring the pieces of wood closer to the flames he remembered his first time seeing something non-human. His father had been a bold and dangerous man. Leon was only a few years older than his grandson, Nate, when that night came. His chants were rushed but his dad allowed him to form the words without prompting. Blood dripped from the jaw of the beast and a child's arm was still in its claws. Leon trembled but did the necessary rituals. His father did the killing stroke but allowed Leon to help in the dismemberment of the beast. The child's remains were buried at the family crypt once they'd been properly cleaned and prepared. Even then Leon wondered if that small pale arm was going to come back and find him.

Still these many decades later and across the great ocean and most of the known land, that first slaying haunted his dreams. Leon had been glad to spare his son that lesson so early. But his time was upon him and from what the child, Ben, had said there were at least two of them.

"Daniel, take strength from your soul. God will keep your hand straight and your mind clear. Go cleanse at the creek and ready your wits. Tonight I will see what we face. Tomorrow we will slay them in their sleep and hasten them to hell." Leon felt stronger having said the required opening ritual.

It had been so long since he'd said or heard these words anywhere but in his nightmares. Daniel had only read them in the ancient books. Those were in another satchel, twin to the one still gripped in his hand, still inside the wagon. They were old and carefully packed to keep from being damaged.

Nodding his understanding Daniel bowed slightly and went to do his father's bidding. He passed the boys and sent them back to settle in for the night. They would sleep as only the young could -- without a care and gently watched over by family. For how much longer that would occur Daniel didn't know. He hoped it was longer than just this night.

***

Molly sighed and went closer to Jenny. Since Ben wasn't here, she'd mistakenly thought Jenny would be more approachable and settled. To be a proper vampire's minion Molly would have to change her slowly and without taking too much blood. A proper full change from minion to fledgling vampire wouldn't occur for decades, if then. Jenny was fluttering around like a wounded bird and not staying still long enough for her to catch a hold of her thoughts. Molly was getting edgy and that wasn't the state of mind she needed to be in for clean bite.

"Jenny, dear one, please sit down by the fire." Molly had tossed in some roots and herbs that scented the smoke bringing on dreams and a more relaxed frame of mind. Jenny had yet to sit for more than a minute. It wouldn't work if she kept flitting around and jumping up at every sound.

Ned approached slowly; he'd been out doing something. He didn't tell Molly what he was doing or where he was going. She couldn't find out without asking because he'd been nearly constantly blocking her since the last town. Whatever happened that caused all those troubles was yet to be explained and she, as the older vampire, refused to ask. Damn his soul, he hadn't volunteered anything. But Molly would find out. She always did.

"Cousin, you look well. You've eaten already?" Molly taunted Ned jealousy smelling the fresh blood in his veins.

"Naturally, Molly, I didn't wish to put this kind woman to any troubles with feeding a man such as me." His double-edged words taunted Molly back. He knew she hadn't begun to sup from Jenny and it was driving her nuts. Jenny strolled to Ned and beamed.

"That was kind of you. I would've been more than happy to feed you given your kind gifts last night. I already got two eggs!" Jenny beamed. She hadn't had fresh eggs in more time than she cared to admit. The eggs were nestled in a box to be saved a day or two. She wanted to make something fancy as a thank you for her friends.

Molly heard the thought and said, "I am glad you are enjoying the hens. I don't much care for chicken or eggs. I tend to eat out at the saloon given it's part of my pay."

Blushing Jenny nodded and said, "Oh, I hadn't realized that. You were so generous giving me the hens and staples."

"Jen, my dear, I get many things in trade. I am happy to share with such a friend as you. You're on hard times, given your husband's running away and you welcomed me into your fire. That is something to treasure." Molly smiled as she watched Jenny settle down long enough to inhale the smoke from the fire. She seemed startled then the drug began to take effect.

Jenny Foley smiled and opened her mind.

***

Leon left with Daniel. The boys were quietly sleeping and wouldn't wake easily as they'd had a busy day and their bellies were full. Daniel was still hesitating about leaving them alone, so Leon set some wards from an ancient ritual. Once Daniel was reassured his son was safe he trailed after his father.

The camping grounds had settled down for the most part. A few conversations were scattered and folks seemed to be behaving well for a change. No feelings of wrongness by their wagon. Leon knew that would change just as sure as he knew what they were. The air was scented and drifting towards them. He knew that odor. Vampires.

Daniel looked over and saw his father sway. He worried that all of the excitement was too much for the old man. Leon turned his head, as if hearing his son's thoughts, and grinned.

"This is what I live for, Daniel. Make no mistake." Leon handed back the satchel having removed a few items. Daniel felt awkward carrying the bag little more than his father's lackey. But then that was something he'd felt most of his life. As if Leon's shadow was so big and he was insignificant in the way of the world, and only his own son's life seemed to give his any meaning. Not that his father ever uttered a word saying that. He just felt that way. Nate's life was joy for them all and he did keep them both going after Leah died. To have something so monstrous in the camp with them was scary.

Leon's strides were steadier as he now how the scent of his creature. He'd yet to tell Daniel what was in the camp but knew only seeing the creatures in action would prove to his boy what was there. The word vampire was not enough.

They drew closer to Ben's mother's campsite. A fire sparkled in the middle of the clearing and Leon could still smell the odd concoction burning in the flames. Blue-green licked the deep red and oranges of the normal wood burning. Leon had seen that flame before. It was the poison used by the vampires to deaden the reasoning of their human prey. Leon feared they were too late.

***

Ned was seated next to Jenny, stroking her hand gently between his two. Her other hand was resting in Molly's hands and she was swaying ever so slightly as they held her near the fire. The smoke was wrapping around her like a lover deep in the night. The crisp air of the night made each of her breaths dance in and out of her lungs. Neither of the vampires were bothering to even breathe. The drugs in the fire wouldn't harm them much less put them into any kind of trance state but they didn't need to breathe. Jenny hadn't even noticed the oddness of her two fireside companions.

"Are you comfortable?" Molly asked softly.

"Very." Jenny's word slurred.

Ned smiled over Jenny's head flashing slight fangs at Molly. Molly set her jaw and shook her head quickly at Ned's taunt. Subdued he put his fangs away and let Molly begin to talk to Jenny.

"Jenny, I am sorry that Johnny abandoned your family. It's not safe for a woman alone with her son in these dangerous times to be heading west. Ned and I were talking earlier and were wondering how long you were staying here?" Molly's voice wasn't her usual wheedling saloon gal sound but something different, ancient and powerful. Jenny shivered in pleasure at how Molly's voice entered her ear and caressed her body. Ned moved his hand higher to her face and stroked back a strand of hair that had come free from her nape.

Ned didn't interrupt Molly's seductive tones, but added a counterpoint with his gentle touches and slight trembling fingertips. They weren't fearful of touching her but rather excited to hear Molly begin her turning of this delicious morsel. He hoped she didn't go too far. The hole he'd dropped both men into in the past few nights wasn't large enough to handle too many corpses without attracting notice. The tinker man with his elixir of promises had been larger than he seemed when alive. And his property wasn't easily found. That's where Ned really used his talents when disposing of bodies, backtracking their worldly goods to guarantee Molly's privacy.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-10-15
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