I rode east away from the setting sun like a haint, kicking up dust like the demons in my breast and fingering my wood handled Colt army issue revolver like she was the hottest whore in town, keeping watch to both sides of the twilight as I felt that goddamned Comanche’s bullet move closer to my heart. Doc James rode close to my left flank, cursing quietly the dark closing in all around, creeping in like an assassin and breathing in our ears little curses bundled up in myriad forms of nameless fear. They called me Diablo in Natchez and Son of the Great Whore everywhere south of the border but tonight me and Doc had the black spot and the Reaper was whetting his scythe for blood.
See, I had done cut a man’s throat after a game of hold ‘em and gotten one in the guts before I made it out the door. Doc James gave ‘em one with the scatter gun, but those three Texas shitbirds with their Comanche mans had done rounded up a gang of thieves hell bent on blood and battle ready to steal the very breath from our cursed bodies. I could hear Doc praying the sinner’s prayer over and over again as the first CRACK whipped past us just beyond Widow’s mesa and we set our pintos to gallop, digging our heels into their puny sides like we did back in ’64 only we had good horses then and it was the blue coats not a bunch of goddamned dick sucking Texans with their prairie scum in tow. Doc James hollered at me to head for the watershed and we pulled rein to the right, trying to use the ochre black darkness to fend off the fiends closing in with every step. My pinto, Sally that I’d traded a bunch of Apache braves some Navajo scalps and a bottle Mescal for had the guts to make it but not the legs. She folded just beyond some scrub brush when she tripped over a damn jagged rock and sent me flying into the dirt dick first and feet a flying. She didn’t break any bones though and took off, thank the maker, in the same direction as Doc James and his haggard mare, headed for the watershed but destined for hell. I hunkered down behind a Joshua tree and waited to die. I barely had myself set and my Colt cocked before fifteen riders flew past, guns blazing and bloodthirsty with howls and curses, but too loud to notice me for their own frenzied hatred. I said a quick prayer for Doc, but mostly I just tried to unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth and swallow the little bit of blood and bile that kept rising in my throat, dry with the remnants of whiskey and the closeness of doom. The horse hoofs faded off into the south, taking with them any chance I had for life or death, a judgement bitter as the gall in the savior’s cocktail and double bladed as Spanish steel.
I lay there nigh on two hundred heartbeats and waited while a sidewinder slithered past in his search for a meal. He stopped to sniff me with his forked tongue; he deemed me dead meat and went on his way with a rattle and a rat hunger. The night was in full bloom by then and the chill of the plain settled down, making my teeth chatter and the bullet in my breast burn with a fire devoid of comfort and full of the scent of the grave. I knew two things at this juncture that didn’t bode well in my liquor rotted belly: I was dead if I didn’t get to a doctor and I was dead anyway because there wasn’t a doctor within a hundred leagues of this Joshua tree somewhere in the western desert and a long way from home. That’s when she came to me.
Out of the shadows but wrapped in ever-darker deviltry came a terrible maiden that I’ll call Cassandra. I won’t call her by her true name because even if I could pronounce it I wouldn’t repeat it for fear of the stake or the rack or whatever the righteous folk have cooked up for sinners like me. She came to me whispering tidings of Doc and his fate, how those god-forsaken Comanches had slit him from groin to gullet and hung his hide out to dry like a deer in Autumn. She told of the dances those hate born sons a bitches did around his body to seal his soul in hell and how they cast lots for his raiment and his old painted mare. Then she told me in softer tones how she had tripped my pinto and sent it off like a lamb to the slaughter, landing me safely here behind this twisted tree in no man’s land like Moses in his basket made of reeds and rushes. She produced a flask of some burning stuff that filled my bowels with fire and flowed from my aching belly out to my limbs and then back again. It weren’t wholesome but it made the bullet quit hurting for the duration and allowed me to sit up straight and look her in the eyes. That’s what I remember most about her: her eyes. When a man looked in them at first he saw silky seduction and the comfort that comes from a night with a high priced whore in one of them high fallutin brothels in one of the cities back east where civilized men gathered to drink mint juleps and sell the souls of men like me. But further down, below the fancy red drapes and the perfume and the sleepiness of sin there was a blackness that rivaled any I’d ever encountered and a damnation kept for souls that might indulge in her brand of comfort. Down, down, down that staircase in her eyes I went, hearing the screams of a thousand trapped and desperate men; slaves of her lust and servants to her indomitable will, damned to walk the earth as wraiths and ghost wanderers, ever seeking for salvation but finding no quarter from angel nor devil. Then she began to recount my past to me. Not the innocence of childhood when I’d sit on my Daddy’s lap in Sunday service or the tryst I made with Elizabeth Miller beneath that old oak tree before I went to the war when we swore eternal love and devotion to each other for richer or poorer, promising before God and heaven to never stray the course but to make a home and a family soon as I got back from fending off the Northern aggression. No. She started recounting Chancellorsville and Vicksburg and Antietam and god forsaken Gettysburg and then the border states and the murdering and the raping and the women and children I butchered and the scalping and the whoring and the whiskey and the sodomy and the secret trysts I made in the shadows with Baal to save my skin from the flaying I had coming to me. She told it all as if she knew every hair on my head and every evil desire I’d ever had in my heart or deed that I’d committed with my hands.
Then she offered me a choice: Accept a kiss from her or die here in the dust like the dog that I was. She said if I refused her gift that I could take up my case with saints Peter and Michael and see how I fared with them at the pearly gates, or I could accept it and gain eternal life and a power that I’d never know or gain from the pages of the preachers. The choice was mine. I looked past her figure hovering over me at the moon. A cloud passed over it and all was dark for a moment except the scarlet glow emanating from her eyes. I said my last prayer as a mortal man and God help me, I accepted.
I sit here today in my posh flat in Manhattan, surrounded by all the amenities of the modern age. I made a killing in the Great War trafficking commodities to the beleaguered Germans, I slayed it during prohibition with whiskey for the Irish and guns for the Italians. Before the crash of ’29 I converted all my assets to gold bullion and purchased several exclusive properties in the south of France, selling them to the Swiss years before the Germans invaded in 1940, who incidentally I made quite the profit from with precious artifacts and bootlegged national treasures. I was Bull in the eighties and Bear in the nineties, and made a fortune in dot com dollars before the tech stocks bottomed out with the turn of the millennium. I sit here gazing out at that same silver moon, knowing that the prayer I mouthed to a forsaken God one hundred and thirty years ago today will never be enough to free me from the chains of matrimony to my eternal madame. I sit and stare at the moon, and I feel my fangs growing, prodding me to scour the night for another victim or a new proselyte for the cult of the Vampire.