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August 01, 2022

Westward Dust 4

By Lydia Manx

I had a rough night -- too much bad liquor had been served and the men were crazy with lust and stupidity -- I dabbed at my busted lip in the reflection of the small pane of glass in my room. I'd been sent upstairs by Miss Sally to 'freshen up a spell.' She'd taken a few extra coins from the boisterous patron, telling him to leave and not come back for a few weeks. That was a harsh punishment, but given the aches and bruises I had no quarrel with her sentence. She also called out that I could have one on the house, meaning a shot of whiskey or whatever, and I nodded my thanks and asked the barkeep for some whiskey and a drop of laudanum. Looking at my face he nodded and went deep into the shelf beneath him, coming up with a small brown bottle. Miss Sally nodded her permission and he soaked a corner of a ratty cloth.

I was still pressing the numbing laudanum to my lip and was happy that the blood had stopped flowing. Something danced out of my view behind me.

Thinking one of the customers had snuck up the stairs behind me, I spun around while snatching my ever-helpful knife into my left hand. My right hand was still keeping the drug-soaked fabric in place.

To my shock there wasn't anyone in the room. My skin crawled and I felt the wrongness of the air. My eyes dashed around, looking to see what new haunt had decided to visit, and there wasn't any shimmer of air or voices that I could see. Then I felt a fingernail trace down my cheek and push my hand away from my lip. I stabbed out at the air in front of me and didn't feel anything or anyone. My knife harmlessly swished while I felt the pressure of the unseen fingertip drag my lower lip down as if to explore the injury. I felt dirty and could smell the faint odor of a privy, but there didn't seem to be anyone in front of me. I swung both my arms around trying to find what was tormenting me.

Hissing, I moved back to the small window and crouched lower so I was nearly curled in a ball on the floor. Taking a deep breath, I swung my knife out, arching all the way around -- and finally the blade stopped on something near ankle level. I felt the creature jump back and my knife completed the sweep. Looking at the blade, I saw black liquid drip from the edge and onto the rug beneath me. There was a sizzle, and it disappeared into the worn runner that went from the window to the door.

There was a flicker of something just off to my left, and then a dark shape appeared wrapped in a cape like overcoat. The creature inside was pale white and to my utter shock, female. I had thought from the initial touch it was a male, but the long unkempt hair framed huge sunken brown eyes and a small button nose. Her lips were drawn back and I noticed her smile. She wasn't lacking teeth like most women of middle years, but instead had longer teeth than those I'd ever seen. My mind tried to figure it out and then I heard a soft voice, "That's one of the cursed ones."

Not bothering to look, I knew that voice without turning my head. It was the voice of one of Miss Sally's haunts -- a man of middle years who had died a few decades back, it seemed . He didn't seem to mind that I saw him and knew him for dead, but at the same time he had a stubborn streak that refused to allow him to be sucked out of his past and into wherever it was he was designed to go.

The creature in front of me didn't seem to hear the man, and kept staring at me like I had a third eye not just a broken lip. The dark haired woman was scary, but I'd been against worse I'd figured, and I wasn't afraid of much of anything.

Seeing my focus, the ghost of Miss Sally's added, "That's a vampire, my child. You must have heard of them."

Keeping my face calm, I dipped my head ever so slightly, acknowledging what he'd said. I didn't want my eyes to leave the wretched creature for a second. It weren't like I found that vampire interesting, but it was more like a cottonmouth or rattler ... best to keep watching that bit of hell in sight as to not let it strike. In my years I'd seen what snakes could do, and the vampire had some sameness about it. She shook her head and smiled at me as if I was amusing her. I weren't in the least feeling amusing, but wary of the dark soul.

"You aren't afraid of me." Again she was laughing at me while she walked a pace closer. "You smell delicious. Nicely soaked with a bit of whiskey and now that delicious laudanum-soaked lip that needs my attention." She actually giggled like I'd find her in the least funny. A deep red tongue peeked outta her mouth between those sharp teeth and ran over her lips. She was actually trying to get me near her. I could feel her pushing into me from clean over the other side of the room. She'd moved inches closer, but her first leap from my stabbing knife had landed her a good three feet back. The inches she was making towards me still had her out of my blade's reach, but she was far too close in my measure. Not to mention she was between me and the door, and the window wasn't easily opened 'cause of the weather changing from cold to hot causing the wood to swell up.

Miss Sally's ghost friend said, "She likes you, I fear." I didn't see no sense in replying 'cause the haunt never left the room for more than a few minutes, so I long ago decided his death was either in this bedroom or the next and he was bound to the space more than most. I'd tried to talk to him a few times, but he really wasn't much more of a talker than I was. Mostly we sat while I read the family Bible in the mornings when my roommates were still passed out.

The vampire smiled again and said, "Whoever is talking to you better show himself. If I have to go track him down, I will, but I won't be happy."

The ghost sputtered then disappeared completely. I didn't know rightly what was the best answer to tell the vampire, so I kept to myself again. I knew inside me that Miss Sally's ghost hadn't passed onto the next world, but was watching to see what was going to happen. He'd taken a liking to me and wanted to make sure Miss Sally was safe. For a haunt he was mostly pleasant.

She shook her head with her hair flying haphazardly and looked at me and hissed, "Where did your guest go? I can't hear him, but I know he was just here." She looked greatly upset by Miss Sally's friend disappearing. He wasn't gone, but just in another place. I didn't think she could harm the ghost but why ask questions of evil creatures? Not like I figured she would tell me true.

I didn't bother to add that I didn't have any real guests, just cash paying customers. I had stopped dabbing at the wound inflicted earlier; I saw a glowing light of hunger glaze her eyes, and I knew it was my best choice. She was far too interested in me already. It didn't much matter 'cause she was glaring at me like I'd killed her puppy or something. For a vampire she wasn't what I expected. It was like I'd personally tried to harm her by just living. That wasn't right.

Her eyes glowed unexpectedly bright, and then they went back to the calmer brown that looked normal. The fangs hadn't gone away, so I wasn't much soothed by the change, but I kept my face calm and treated her like any nasty customer. That meant she was 'right' and I was quiet.

"You smell delicious, but deadly ... why?" Her voice was soft and she risked a stroke along my jawline without giving me a chance to push her away. This vampire was too forward, and I knew without a doubt or a comment from a haunt she was deadly far more than I was.

I shrugged and waited for her to answer her own question.

"You speak to the dead." It weren't a question but a comment far as I knew.

I heard footsteps pounding up the stairs and braced for what was going to happen. I knew couldn't stop it but still I wasn't much happy. Blood was coming.

I no sooner had that thought when the door flew open, and one of my roommates lunged inside yelling, "What ya doing here? Don't you have a man to see to?"

Now I didn't much care for her, but not a second later the door was closed and the vampire was fang deep in the girl's dirty neck. The slurping sound was not purty and how fast the vampire finished her feeding was a mite uncomfortable to me. The vampire let my roommate slump to the floor and smiled at me saying, "I needed that. You know she hated you?"

I looked at the vampire and said, "Yes."

Not much surprised me and hearing the soiled dove hated me didn't mean a bit. She was tired and worn. Thankfully I didn't hear her haunt. But Miss Sally's boy ventured a soft, "Damn, be careful."

The freshly-filled vampire spun around the room and shouted, "Show yourself!"

The haunt stayed silent and I looked to the vampire and asked, "Who are you shouting at?" Her face was flushed and she looked fuller than a few minutes ago. The vampire had got something from her feeding. My stomach twisted and I worried if I would be able to ever leave the room.

"You are a bold creature," the Vampire hissed while still glancing around as if she was going to find Miss Sally's ghost caller. I didn't ever ask Miss Sally about the dead man, but wondered if she sensed he watched over her. Looking at my drained and quickly cooling roommate, I guessed the haunt didn't extend the same caring to all of Miss Sally's girls.

As if hearing my thoughts, which for all knew he did, the ghost chuckled softly and said, "Damned vampire hasn't a clue how bold and nosy you can be." I never admitted aloud to being nosy, but the haunt was right -- I did like to know what was what.

His casual comment reminded me I wasn't without resources. The arrogant vampire had strayed into my reach, and not even pausing I lashed out and caught the vampire full across her bloody throat. She wasn't very polite when drinking, and her thin skin parted and the vein I'd caught with my knife split clean open and all the blood she'd just taken was pouring out of the creature.

Her hands flew to try to put her throat back together but Miss Lottie's knife had been honed mighty fine and it had cut through that old vampire's neck like a hot knife through fresh butter. The haunt said, "Best leave now unless you want her to get you."

I was wicked tired of running and instead I took one of the two hardback chairs in the room -- used to assist in servicing men who wished not to be seen, and refused to go to one of our beds as if pressing into one of us in bed would make the exchange of our bodies for money something wrong -- and without talking, I yanked the well-used chair into large pieces. Weren't hard 'cause some big customers had cracked it up a bit. Without consulting my haunting friend I took one of the legs and with all my weight behind me I slammed into the Vampire's chest. I figured something would give and sure enough, with her blood gone it was her breastbone. A snap of fragile bones and then I fell clean through her middle bits and into the hard floor beneath her. Her eyes flared briefly with fury and then she stopped. Were no ghost that came from her, but black evil like the Preacher. Some blood had splashed on me and I went to the water pitcher on the floor in the corner and rinsed off the muck.

Looking around the room, I couldn't see that saying anything was going to bring me much but a rope and a jerking death. I spoke to the haunt and thanked him for his help in distracting the unwanted visitor. I packed my carryall and found I didn't need as much as when I'd left Pa's room. I took the backstairs used by the same customers who never wanted to be seen visiting, and headed down the dusty road Westward again -- but not poor anymore, just more aware of how the night brought misery in many forms.


The End?

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-12-08
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
Anonymous
12/09/2014
05:35:19 PM
Well done, Ms. Manx. Dark and ominous throughout. The descriptive details of both the place and the main character's reactions allow the reader to clearly enter the story.
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