Saturday, May 1, 2010

Short Story: Deadwood Mesa

My long-term followers might remember that last October I did a ridiculous amount of short stories inspired by Halloween and some Mad-Lib ones in which you provided the necessary elements that I had to twist into a short. This short story was inspired by my trip to some mining towns a while back. I'm going back there this month for an overnight ghost study with some pals. The bleak towns made a story in my mind as I walked along their streets and this is the result; an undead cowboy, a photographer, and a mine filled with vampires... Yahoo! Enjoy. Mind you, this was written up without any editing, so it's raw, but if ya'all like it, I'll be editing it into something that will work for submission. I'd love any feedback you can offer. I have an extremely thick skin, so don't worry about hurting my "widdle ol' feelings." The undead cowboy is actually fashioned after one of my blog followers (I dare the regular long-term followers to figure out who). You see, ya'all inspire me to think in new directions and find ways to use bits and pieces of your personalities for characters. It's inspiring to know such a wide range of fantastic people who inspire my work and add dimension to an otherwise usual run-of-the-mill horror story.

Deadwood Mesa

Two hours outside of the metropolitan area, the desert took on a completely different hue. Away from the palm trees and forced grass lawns, this part of Arizona remained untouched by man’s insistence it be something other than the deadly space nature intended.

Gail’s knuckles whitened against the steering wheel as she turned down the washboard road, dirt trailing a thick cloud behind her SUV. With photo proofs needing to be in at the editor’s by next Friday for her book about abandoned Arizona, she was down to the deadline. She had to go to this last town that was off the maps and be done with the project.

It wasn’t safe doing it alone, but she was used to having to do things on her own. It was just another task, admittedly in the middle of nowhere and with no cell phone connections. She flipped her phone open one more time and tested it. Nope. It was going to be useless in these rocky mountains.

Her cousin Tom told her about the town and drew it up on a map for her. Apparently, it was abandoned in the early 1900s when the mines ran dry and only a few old “codgers” stayed to hide from the world, but he assured her they had probably moved on since he had last visited 15 years ago.

The looming hills and raw exposed geography of the mesas along with the looming storm clouds gave Gail a perfect photographic atmosphere. The ominous mood would lend itself to a beautiful study.

As she turned the bend and entered the crumbling town, snow from the tops of nearby mountains melted and trickled down the stone, filling up the canals that encircled the town like a castle’s moat. She drove over a bridge and slowed down to study the cascading clear water and driftwood debris clogging up the sand wash.

Just as she pulled up next to a boarded up two-story building, the distant rumble of thunder sounded. The cell phone was useless, so she left it in the SUV and grabbed her camera and slipped it around her neck and then shoved a bottled water into her shorts pocket.

The place was amazingly still intact. It gave her more to photograph than other towns she’d been to that were nothing more than crumbling foundations. Judging the way the serrated mesa and the rooflines met the blackening sky overhead, Gail envisioned the shots she wanted to take.

The narrow street took her down to what looked like a main roadway running parallel with the mesa. Gail stopped and studied a swinging sign squeaking noisily overhead and began to take pictures. A flash of lightning lit the sky. The air was thick and heavy. The humidity brought out the medicinal scent of creosote, a smell that always forewarned of rain.

Gail turned the corner onto a wide street lined with abandoned rusted cars and a gathering of men at a shop who appeared to be gutting it or doing some kind of construction, but they were talking more than working.

She looked up and down the roadway without another soul in sight and swallowed tightly. It might have been cowardly to pivot quietly and sneak out of sight, but Gail wasn’t stupid. She was a woman alone in a place with no witnesses, other than the men who appeared to be a tight-knit pack.

When she turned to leave, her eyes caught a motion nearby. Not 10 feet away against the building she had just passed, a tall lean cowboy with his hat pulled down lit a cigarette and watched her with pale glittering silver eyes.

She picked up her pace and moved on towards the canal and followed the porches of little cottages that lined the arroyo like crooked soldiers.

It felt as if she’d just stepped back in time. Nature continued on, taking over where man abandoned his creations. Dust settled in sweeping piles against the buildings, birds nested inside the structures, bees buzzed around a honeycomb under a porch. The sounds of distant thunder, the gurgling of the creek and the squeaking wooden planks beneath her feet soothed Gail’s senses just like her quiet ranch house outside the city. Her pace slowed and she took her time studying the shacks with an artist’s eye for evoking the theme of desolation.

She tested one porch and climbed up, hoisting herself through the doorway where wood planks dangled like broken fingers from the ceiling. The floor flexed with a groan under her weight. She went to her knees and took a picture of the storm sky through the broken window.

A dark shadow passed over her and Gail lowered her camera, studying the open doorway behind her. The entire shack rattled as someone walked along the canal’s planked walkway.

When it remained quiet for several minutes, Gail finished taking some more pictures. The first drops of rain outside sounded on the tin roof. She remained under the walkways’ overhang, working her way between the shacks to the dirt road they faced.

The canal homes opened up onto a broad dirt street filled with springtime weeds popping up through the caked hard earth. The pretty delicate little flowers showed a grace and beauty that was completely in contrast with the lack of nourishment.

A large rock stumbled down the steep hillside behind the boarded up shops across the way. Gail looked up at the craggy mesa. In the storm’s shadows it had become a foreboding navy blue fortress. Nothing around her possessed soft edges, even the earth beneath her feet was concrete-like caliche.

A howling gust of wind blew down the roadway, sandblasting the backs of Gail’s legs. Tumbleweeds dislodged from the edge of a shed and bobbed across the roadway, gathering up in the doorway of an old hardware store.

She squatted down and got some photos of the result of the oncoming dust storm. It clouded the air, causing her lungs to tickle. She coughed and reached into her pocket for the bottled water as another gust of wind brought more orange dirt flying at her. The bottle fell from her hand and rolled, but Gail couldn’t look into the dust to find it.

She rushed across the street and onto the boardwalk, backing into a doorway to avoid the worst of the dust storm. They usually only lasted five or 10 minutes at the most before the rains followed. She leaned back and took some pictures of the careening tumbleweeds and tufts of powdery silt in the air. The maelstrom built to a darkening musty crescendo in which she could no longer even see the end of the porch.

She turned into the open doorway and ducked inside as the first large drops of cold rain fell and thunder rattled the building.

Gail stripped off her shirt down to the tank top and used it to wipe off the camera then bound it around her camera to protect it, tying it to her belt loop. There was no use in trying to go back out into the storm until it was spent.

Storms didn’t usually bother her, she was used to them, but this one in the middle of nowhere brought the dead town to life. Buildings creaked against the screaming wind, tumbleweeds cut loose, and air whistled between cracks in the walls giving it an eerie animal howling quality.

The building housed some kind of shop with rows of shelving along the walls. Gail squinted into it, cautiously stepping on the boards to be certain she wouldn’t fall through the ancient floors.

A dark figure in the corner drew her attention. She moved closer to see what it was. Lightning flashed, thunder cracked, and for that split second she glimpsed a man with a cowboy hat.

“Hello? Is this your place?” She asked. When he didn’t reply, she looked around the blistered walls and rusted hinges and wondered if perhaps this old shop had a mannequin.
She crossed the room on cautious feet. The figure didn’t move at all. She stopped right before it, tilted her head and examined the outline. If it was a mannequin, it was quite tall.

When she caught the clinging scent of tobacco, Gail cautiously stepped back.

“Ya know better than to wander alone!” He grabbed her by the arm so quickly, Gail didn’t have time to realize his intentions. She struggled to get free, digging her feet into the floorboard and pulling, only to cause herself pain as his grip became more determined.

“I’m sorry, I’ll leave.” She promised. Her heart pounded wildly as she looked to the doorway. The rain came down in torrents now, the lightning nearly constant. Still, it looked safer than inside.

The expression on his leathery tanned face was grim, his pale glowing eyes narrowed beneath the brim of his hat.

“Too late now. Ya have to stick it out. It comes down the canyon and the street becomes a river.” He growled in a raspy voice. He studied her keenly and shook his head. “Hell, you can’t be her, but you could be her great granddaughter. I never thought I’d see your face again.”

“Me?” She shouldn’t have asked. The man was obviously troubled with demons.

When the lightning flashed again, she saw it. Above the opening in his shirt and in the shadows of his chin, a raw scar encircled his neck. The skin appeared knotted and shiny white against his tanned skin. Was that the reason his voice was so raspy? She tugged herself free from his grasp just as he eased up.

“A lady I knew a long time ago.” He growled lowly. “Your her spittin’ image.”

“I have to go.” She stammered and rushed the door only to be plucked back inside by the back of her shirt.

“I told ya, it ain’t safe out there.”

“Let me go!”

“Ya need me.” He growled into her ear. “Goddamit! Your gonna be glad ya have me, woman!”

Gail planted her feet into the edge of a bowing floorboard and shoved backwards, making the tall man stumble. In that moment, she fell down and scrambled to her feet, rushing the door and launching herself into the pouring rain. She sprinted alongside the muddy street that was running like a river. She stopped on the edge of it and looked back as he came out the front door, the red glow of his cigarette alerting her.

She turned and looked up the hillside and took a foothold and hoisted herself up.

“Stupid woman!” He screamed out. “Ya go that way and your askin’ for it!”

Not letting herself be intimidated by the threat, Gail grasped the scraggly bushes and brush along the hillside, rain blinding her in the process. Thunder shook the mountainside and lightning crackled in the skyline, but her focus remained on what was in front of her, a slippery, gnarly hillside with a treacherous angle.

Her knuckles cut into the stones as she scrambled up the slick and crumbling ground. There was no turning back. The angry cowboy below made it impossible for Gail to find any other way out of her predicament. Trying to show confidence in her choice, she swung her leg up onto a rock shelf and hoisted herself up when a crack of thunder seemed to rattle the entire hillside. Dizzy from the return of the storm’s wrath, she studied the distance down and the distance to the cave entrance above. She was halfway and climbing up was a hell of a lot easier than climbing down.

She looked to the right and left as the rain started up harder, coming in at a slant and blinding her. She spit it from her mouth and shook her long hair plastering her face. For a spring rain it was icy cold and her body shivered uncontrollably, making her mind slow and her reflexes even slower.

When her foot caught and she couldn’t haul it up, Gail looked down. The cowboy was below her, his grip unrelenting as he tugged just enough to jar her from her perch.

“Your not goin’ up there!” He screamed over the howling winds.

“Please, let me go!” She sobbed, but even then he had her sliding on her backside towards him. To her horror, she glided right beneath his long body. She struggled against him, rocks digging into her back, rain blinding her vision. His strong hand held her jaw tightly.

“There’s no need to wrestle me.” He spat. “Be still.”

“Let me go!” She pushed at his body, but his hold on the ground was better than hers.

Gail fully expected him to attack her right there in the drowning storm as she sank into the squishy mud, but he shocked her when the cowboy got up on his feet and grabbed her up, tucking her into his body and working his way back down the hillside, one hand on a guide rope she somehow never noticed was there.

“Just getting’ ya down to the ground. Stop squirmin’” He screamed as the thunder rumbled overhead.

Gail realized fighting him now was useless. Once she got to the ground again, she’d find a way across the raging river that the roadway had become.

Just as he swung them both upright on the firm ground, Gail pulled free. The shirt tied at her belt loop came loose with her camera in it. She’d let him have it. She just wanted to get free.

Stumbling forward, she raced into the cutting rain alongside the roadway and darted around a building, afraid to look back. Her feet sank into the thick gummy mud as she tried to figure out how to traverse the rising river of water.

She heard him coming and yelling that it wasn’t safe to continue, but she wasn’t staying. She darted around the back of a tiny outhouse and climbed along the ridge of the hillside towards a row of houses that looked almost inhabitable.

“Help!” She screamed out at the dark figure leaned against the frame of the one of the houses.

The man came forward, joined by others.

The sight of all the men coming towards her in the rain gave Gail a start. She stopped and looked back between the angry cowboy with the glowing eyes and the group of men and opted for the group.

“Please!” She called out as she raced towards them.

One of the men tucked her into his arm and guided her towards the cabin.

Gail looked back one more time. The cowboy was gone.

“You got yourself caught in the rain? Don’t you know how these flash floods come through these hills?” The older man asked.

“City folks.” The youngest one snorted.

They guided her to a single hard chair. Gail looked around the room to realize it was as barren as the other buildings. What were a bunch of men doing here?

She shivered uncontrollably. “There was a man c-chasing me.”

“Was he, now?” The elderly man asked, his eyes permanently squinted as if the sun were shining within the darkened cabin.

“He was tall. He had a cowboy hat. Did you see him? Do you know him?”

One of the younger men whispered fearfully, “Josiah.”

“Shut up!” The elderly one spat. “You’re safe now. We were just gonna go up to higher ground. It washes out easily here.” He took her arm and Gail studied the sullen group of men.

“I’d rather go to my car.” She told him.

“No, no, Main Street’s nothing more than a river now.” The elderly man assured her. He was being as delicate as possible to guide her towards the back of the cabin, but Gail’s heels dug in with concern.

He must have sensed it because he calmly explained, “There’s an elevator shaft back here, takes us up to the top of the mesa. We wait it out up there. It’s the town’s rules. We all have to get to higher ground. Come on, Miss.”

She was cold, tired, and her knees were raw from the climb up the hillside, but Gail wasn’t about to go with a bunch of strange men into a mine elevator to who knew where. She looked back out the broken window. The rain was steady, but not unreasonable.

“I’ll stay here.” She pulled her arm free.

“We can’t let you do that, Miss.” One of the tall men said as he shoved her from behind.

Gail stumbled forward and then fell to her knees. She launched herself up, her head butting the man in the chin on the way up. He cursed and his friends laughed as they scooped her up in spite of her thrashing and fighting them every inch of the way.

Before she knew it, Gail was plunged into darkness. She could hear dripping and feel cool tendrils of damp air around her, but had no idea what was happening until she heard the creaking of the lift taking her up to some destiny that would only isolate her more.

“It’s for your own good!” The man barked.

The men seemed uncomfortable at her mention of the cowboy. Perhaps they feared him.
“Who’s Josiah?”

“He’s nothing more than a legend.” One of them balked.

The lift finally came to a halt in a dark chamber. One of the men lit a lantern on the wall and the cave glistened.

“He’s going to come here, you know.” She taunted them. One of the men stepped back as if uncomfortable with that thought.

“She don’t know Josiah.” The elderly man balked.

“I-I do. He smokes a hand-rolled cigarette, his eyes glow like liquid metal and has a big scar on his neck.”

“Jesus, holy shit!” The youngest screeched. “I told ya he’s the one that’s been trying to steal the women away.”

The old man squinted at her in the lantern light. “I think this lady’s telling the truth. What did Josiah want with you?”

“I thought he was going to hurt me, but now I think he might have been trying to keep me safe.” She realized.

“I doubt that.” The old man snorted and then pulled out some chewing tobacco and shoved it into his leathery cheek. “Josiah was a raper. He was hung for raping one of the town women 85 years ago.”

“He didn’t die, ya know.” One of them insisted.

“Well, well,” the elderly man nodded. “That’s true. He survived the hanging so they let him go. He can’t be killed. Since then, he thinks he’s going to make a deal with God to be allowed to finally pass on. He tries to wrestle our women offerings up and save them. It won’t make up for his black heart though. So far, he hasn’t managed to keep one from her fate.” He snorted.

“Offerings? Fate?” She swallowed.

“To the immortal creatures.”

One of the other men pushed him aside and leaned into her. “This mountain keeps things alive that shouldn’t be alive. You see, not long after Josiah survived the hanging, they opened up a new tunnel in this mountain. That’s when they found them.”

“Them?” She asked. The glow bouncing off the damp cave walls made for an eerie storytelling. It appeared she was going to have to ride out the storm with a bunch of weather-hardened men who told big stories. Her mind flitted to the notion that perhaps this local superstition might work into her book somehow.

“They’re people of the dark. They live inside here.” The elderly man said.

“Indian legend?” She asked.

“Christ no! This is something of the Devil.” The old man spat out some tobacco onto the ground. “They need human blood to survive and they can’t come out in the light, but so long as the townspeople fed them some women, they let us mine here still and gather gold. It’s an amicable arrangement, you see.” He smiled with his brown-toothed grin.

Gail took a step back, feeling their stares upon her as if waiting for a sacrificial lamb to volunteer. She was shaking her head as they came towards her. It was no longer a campfire story to scare the outsider, but had become a dark threat. Every hair on her body stood up in reaction to the impending confrontation.

“The mines shut down out of fear of the dark people taking the miner’s lives. But, our ancestors made a pact and it’s worked real well. Only problem is, women don’t come down this way too often. We usually have to leave town to round them up. You came right to us, though. I think the leader’ll like you. You’re just his type.” He reached out to touch her hair and Gail stumbled back into one of the men’s arms. He grabbed her tightly and thrust her forward into the long mine shaft as one of the men carried off the lantern ahead of them.

She sincerely hoped their pack mentality reached its peak and they would laugh at making her scared and let her go. They couldn’t all be insane, could they? What could they do? At some point, they’d have to be called on their bluff. There was no way they would produce a vampire at the end of this folly.

“You don’t scare me. There’s no such thing as vampires.” Gail insisted.

The men all stopped and laughed at once.

“Vampires, huh? If only it were that simple.” The old man commented. “They’re something a bit more than your usual vampires. You see, they’ll keep you long enough to enjoy your body and your blood till we bring them their next snack. Josiah took their only woman among them and they want a replacement. Sometimes, it can take weeks to finish you off. One gal they kept alive in there for three months when we brought her food and water. They realized after a time her blood wasn’t good anymore and they finished her off. Live ones don’t keep well down here.” He snorted as they directed her down another corridor.

“Come on, Hector, let us have a turn with her.” The man holding her asked.

“No, no. They can always smell it on them. Don’t even think it. This one’ll give us a good few weeks freedom to dig up the new vein.” He spat again.

They came to the end of a passage that looked to dead end and then she saw it; a narrow doorway-like opening in the rock that led into total darkness. Gail struggled as the tall man behind her shoved her towards it. She planted her feet on either side of the opening and pushed back.

The men laughed at him trying to stuff her through the opening.

“Men?” A deep voice resonated off the dripping walls and had Gail frozen in fear as if the voice of the Devil had spoken.

The man holding her pulled her back as a figure emerge from the opening and unfolded to an ungodly height of surely 7-feet tall. Gail tilted her head up to see the translucent pale skin and milky cataract-looking eyes squinting against the lantern light. He hissed and one of the men put the light behind him.

The creature’s long black hair fell around his shoulders and glistened blue-black in the bit of light that struck it. It tumbled around a bare hairless body. He stepped forward and grasped her from the man’s grip, shoving her against the wall.

Her teeth rattled as he studied her keenly. Her knees trembled as she took in his pale bluish lips and aquiline nose, his nostrils flaring slightly as if he could scent her and all her subtleties. The pupil-less eyes frightened her the most. When she looked into them, her body went limp. When she looked away, her senses came back. His long scraggly black hair tickled her arms as he ran a finger over collarbone.

If this was a prank, it was unbelievably well executed. Having never believed in so much as a ghost or a UFO, Gail’s mind grappled for an explanation. Perhaps he was some cast off citizen with acromegaly causing his height and cataracts causing his eyes to look so freakishly unnatural?

“Fine, very fine. Where did you men find this one? She looks just like my bride. I might make her a keeper and turn her. Expect if I do that you will be rewarded accordingly.” He sniffed her hair and Gail swung her arm out to hit him, but one stare from him and her arm fell to her side, strangely disobedient.

“Please, help me.” She pleaded with the men. When they shuffled back and then turned and ran, taking the only light, Gail slumped to her knees, but the creature still had her by the hair. He growled lowly and hoisted her up like a small child.

As he pulled her away, a faint glow in the mine shaft grew and grew. Certain the men changed their minds, she screamed out as loud as she could.

The bright flame of a torch came into view and a dark shape behind it.

“Let her go!” The raspy voice of the cowboy warned.

“She’s mine now.” The voice behind her hissed. Then, he pulled her through the opening and into the blackened void. Gail screamed and thrashed as she felt hands touching her, stroking her arms and legs as if she were a rare newcomer to hell. The monster behind her grabbed her shirt and pulled at it. The sound of ripping fabric made her frantic.

Gail kicked and swung around her, sucking in the stale smell of rotten flesh and damp mold. She gagged and turned away as one of them grasped her by the ankle to pull her back in. The light in the tunnel brightened enough for her to scramble out like a crab on her backside. Their eyes glowed red in the darkness as they watched the cowboy pull her from the passage while he swung the torch in front of him.

“Back!” He growled and shoved her away.

Gail stumbled down the tunnel and the cowboy followed. She turned the wrong way and he grabbed her arm and pulled her towards the elevator.

When the gate slammed shut, Gail slumped again the metal wall and let out a soft sob of both pain and relief. She slid to the floor and curled up in a ball, her fingers testing the swollen flesh on her cheek where a creature had slapped her.

“You’ll survive.” The cowboy told her as he lit a cigarette on his torch. “I never came in here to fish one a ya out. Glad the torch worked.”

“Thank you.” She whispered hoarsely.

“There’d been a time when I’d have kept ya for myself.” He ran a finger along her hair and Gail shrank back.

“Did you rape that woman?” She asked.

“Wasn’t no woman.” He told her. “Twas one of them.”

“T-those creatures?”

He nodded.

“She came out at night. I saw her on the hillside and she was real seductive-like. She offered me all kinda things. So, I enjoyed them. Then, she made to bite me and I clocked her over the head with a rock. By the time the locals found her she was decaying in the sunshine. They thought I’d mangled her up but she was rotten flesh to start with. I just didn’t see it in the nighttime. They’ve been askin’ for women ever since, tryin’ to replace her.”

Gail tried to stand on her trembling legs. The adrenalin made every muscle in her thighs weak and ineffective. She clutched the grate of the elevator cage as the cowboy cursed and slammed his fist against the gate.

“God dammit!”

“What?” She really didn’t want to know.

The sound of a rushing horde filled the dark cave outside the grate. The cowboy pushed her back against the rear of the cage and held out his torch near the bars. “Elevator’s not workin’.” He informed her.

The light cast the giant creatures in an unnatural glow. They turned away and covered their faces. The leader narrowed his eyes and studied her. His anger and determination crossed the distance. Gail’s body relaxed and she swayed.

“Don’t look at him!” The cowboy shoved her behind him. “He can trance ya.”

Gail tucked herself in behind his tall body and closed her eyes, her mind racing. Josiah was apparently as immortal as the beings outside the cage. Who would win when the torch burned out and the elevator didn’t move? Being the only mortal there, she was done for.

“Give her to us and your debt is paid.” The leader growled.

“I get to die?” Josiah asked.

“Don’t do it, please.” She clutched his arm and tugged on him. The man was pure muscle and determination. He dropped his cigarette and squashed it under his boot and then wrapped his arm around Gail and pulled her up to his side. She tucked her face into his chest and held onto him tightly. He couldn’t give her over to those monsters. He wouldn’t would he?

“You don’t have the power to make my debt paid. My deal is with God now.” Josiah told him. “That woman ya had in here. She was just like this woman. She didn’t wanna be one of ya!”

Gail’s legs weakened with relief.

“You’re never gonna see her pretty face again, ya hear!” Josiah drove the torch through the bars and the crowd groaned and turned away. The leader cast his eyes downward against the light but in a sign of domination, he did not move.

“We’re gonna have to leave the cage, honey.” He told her, his hand gripping hers. “We’re gonna have to take the long way out.”

“The torch?” She studied the light as it licked and flickered. It couldn’t last forever.

“Come on, now.” He coaxed her out of the elevator cage and pushed her towards the left.

“I’ll watch the rear. You run and stay to the left with every turn, ya got me?”

“Josiah?” She whimpered unsurely.

“Do it, darlin’!” He shoved her.

Gail stumbled and rushed through the cave, meeting a wall and turning left. Her heart pounded erratically as she took another fast left turn and the shaft went upwards. Her feet met the slick floor with a desperate cadence. She stopped and turned, waiting once again for Josiah to catch up to her. Without the torch, the cave was completely black. He came around the corner and nodded for her to go. She caught a glimpse of him turning back to the group with the torch and walking backwards up the incline.

A glimmer of light shone to the left and Gail raced for it. The passage seemed to go on forever and the incline got steeper. It was damp and trickling and she fell painfully to her knees onto the jagged surface, wet blood mixing with the rainwater dripping from the distant opening.

Gail looked over her shoulder; certain Josiah would yank her up and force her to continue on despite her exhaustion and pain. Instead, he backed up slowly, but the light of his torch was nothing more than a flicker and hardly a threat to the leader who advanced closer and closer, his towering pale body glowing in the anemic light. His cataract eyes studied her as he moved forward, unafraid of the flame any longer.

She got up and ran with a single-minded determination to find where the light ahead was coming from. “Josiah!” She screamed over and over until her voice was hoarse.

Just as Gail turned the corner and saw the opening of the mine, Josiah swept up beside her, taking her hand, dropping the torch and leading her into the wet fragrant desert.

“W-where are we?” She shivered.

“The side of Deadwood Mesa.” He pulled back his hat and studied the sun low on the sky.

“We gotta get goin.’” He guided her along the dirt path that led along the craggy mesa.

Gail stumbled to keep up with him, her knees still oozing and blood pooling in her sneakers.

He looked back at her when she swayed. His pale eyes studied her and he grumbled as he peeled off his shirt, exposing his muscular chest and the knotted muscles of his arms. Admittedly, he was a fine male specimen. How long had it been since she’d seen a man shirtless? Almost exactly two years since her divorce.

“You’re nearly naked!” He snapped.

Gail looked down to see the remains of her tank top fluttering in the wet breeze, her sheer bra barely containing her breasts. She pulled the worn shirt around her and closed it tightly.

Dumbly, she followed him, her body numb to the pain any longer. She was just so glad for that sliver of light in the horizon that it didn’t dawn on her until they reached the town that it was nearly dark.

“Josiah!” She chased after him. His long-legged stride put him determinedly a block ahead of her. Gail stumbled as she saw the last bit of light squeeze behind a hillside in the distance.

“Ya get in this vehicle and get out of here!”

She fumbled through her pocket for the keys, hands trembling anxiously. It was then she noticed on the hood of her car, her shirt. She picked it up to feel her camera stumble from it.

“Josiah?” She sobbed. “Thank you.” She sniffled.

“Get!” He shooed her roughly as he studied the darkening street behind him.

“Can they leave the caves?”

“They can’t but the men can come get ya if they know you’re missin’!” He told her.

She climbed into the car, thankful for the bit of normalcy again. Turning the key, all her hopes fell. The battery was completely dead.

“Oh God.” She turned it over and over again to meet a click but no action.

“What?” He asked, his expression almost stricken on his weatherworn face.

“The car isn’t working.”

“Jesus, holy hell!” He groaned. “The men must have messed with it. Come on.” He grabbed her hand and tugged her back along the canal.

“Where are we going?” She was afraid to ask.

“I gotta put ya somewhere safe.”

“Where is it safe?” She pleaded.

He stopped and looked around them.

“We can’t let them know ya got loose. Come on.” He tugged her along. It was nearly pitch black and moonless but Josiah didn’t seem to need light. Then, again, he’d probably had a hundred years there to know the place like the back of his hand. For the first time in all the crazy events of the day, she felt sorry for him. What a horrible existence!

“Come on, honey.” He yanked her forward.

“My name is Gail.”

He snickered. “It’s sweetheart, honey, or dear, whatever I wanna call ya.”

She actually chuckled at that comment and then the mood changed quickly as Josiah shoved her into one of the shacks along the canal. He clamped his hand over her mouth and Gail started to feel a new panic again. Was she stupid to let his man guide her into the darkness? Had his plans for her changed?

Then, she heard it; the faint voices of men talking and joking in the distance. One snorted loudly and another hooted.

“They’re drinkin’. They do that after they strike a new deal with the devils.” He whispered into her ear and then eased his hand from her mouth.

“What do we do?” She whispered.

He was silent so long, Gail wondered if he’d heard her.

“There’s an old wagon parked near the barn. There’s an oil tarp over top of it. No one uses it, no one ever goes there. Ya can hide under it and then I’ll go take care of the devils.”

“Take care of them?”

“I tried to cave them in before, but the bastards have no trouble movin’ the rocks. Maybe I’ll try and burn them. I’ll get some kerosene.”

The sounds of the men’s festivities quieted down.

“Josiah?” She asked.


“I think we have a problem.”


“My shirt and camera.”


She took a deep breath. “I put them inside my car. When they disabled my car, they were sitting on the hood. If they go by there again…”

“Damn!” He spit. “That’s where they’re headed. The place they sleep in is up that way.”

The voices picked up on the bridge over the canal. Josiah pressed her back behind him while he leaned out the doorway.

“Can you really see them?”

He nodded slowly. “They think the hanging tree’s what kept me alive, that its roots were fed by the undead below. It wasn’t that. It was the woman. Makin’ love to her did somethin’ to me. I didn’t need to eat or sleep and I can hear and see real good. In fact,” He admitted as he turned to her, “I could smell ya comin’ before you even stepped out of your vehicle. Does it scare ya?” He grinned. Even in the darkness, she could see his teeth glowing and his silver eyes shined strangely at night.

“I swear, Josiah, if your eyes glowed red, I’d think you were one of them.”

He chuckled. “I ain’t tall enough or pale enough to be one of them.”

She felt a moment of tension between them. He had abilities that made him equally as powerful as the creatures in the mine. What else had that woman done to him? Did she bite him? Gail took a step back.

“Christ! Woman, what are ya thinkin’ now?”

She shook her head and held out her hand. “You don’t need to eat. Do you need to drink?” She was afraid of the answer.

He chuckled in a low sinister tone that made her cringe inside as he stepped towards her. Gail continued to back up and look around her for an escape, but the room was rickety with boards dangling and furnishings overturned. Even if she could see them clearly it would still be a tough escape.

“Are ya thinkin’ I might drink blood?”

“Josiah, you didn’t bring me here to kill me, did you?” She pleaded.

“I could have done that long ago, honey. When you were standin’ in the store alone with me, when you were up there scramblin’ on that dang mesa, or maybe there in the elevator shaft, huh?”

She nodded and exhaled with relief. “My whole world has been turned upside down in a few hours’ time, I don’t know what to think.” She slumped against a built-in cabinet.

“I know how that feels, darlin’. I know how that feels.”

“I guess you do.” She admitted. “Do you really think saving me is going to save you?”

It was dark, but she could see him shrug. His silence worried her. She was starting to care about the crazy undead cowboy. There was no way she could justify in her mind why, except perhaps the danger and him offering her protection. They said tragedies brought people together. She couldn’t remember ever depending on her ex, Bernie, like she had in this total stranger of questionable background.

“Soon after I survived the hangin’, the miners opened up a new vein and found the clan. They rushed from town fast. But, I wanted to know why I was still alive. I went in there. Ya know what the leader told me?”

She shook her head, certain he could see her in the darkness.

“He said that their woman was a human they turned into one of them. He said her kiss turned me invincible. I held the torch to him and asked how to turn back.”

“What did he say?” She asked.

Josiah chuckled. “`The kiss of a mortal’ is what he told me. Said it would make me live again.”

“Do you believe him?” She asked.

“Why the hell would he tell me the secret? He was leadin’ me on. While he was tellin’ me this nonsense, one of his creatures came up behind me. I barely got out there. I never went back in.” He said. “I probably should have let them finish me off. I think they’re the only way I can die.”

“No!” She insisted. “There has to be another way. I didn’t thank you. I really appreciate what you did for me. I-I don’t know what would have happened in there.”

“I’ll tell ya. They take ya into that dark hole and they strip ya down. They use your body and torture ya with fear until they finally feast on ya when ya sleep. If they leave enough, they can enjoy ya for days, weeks, months…” His voice trailed off bitterly. “If they want ya to be a bride, the leader rapes ya while he drinks ya.”

Her entire spine shook at that imagery. “Why did you help me and not the others?”

“It was decades before I noticed the ladies of the town were dwindlin’ down. When I realized what the men were doin’, I confronted `em. Then, I made it my task to watch them. They had ways of breakin’ off into separate groups with one of them findin’ and takin’ the gals into the mine. A couple of times, I was there when they did it and wrestled the gals away, but every one of `em was scared of me and ran.” He spat. “Hell, look at my neck and my glowy eyes? They got scooped right back up and fed into the mines to those demons! When I saw ya all alone, I realized I could get to ya before they did. Besides, I thought ya were worth the risk. I couldn’t see another gal turned into what that woman was…up on the mesa.” His hoarse voice trailed off into a rusty whisper.

“T-thanks.” Her eyes filled with tears.

He snorted and turned away. She heard him fumbling and lighting a cigarette. He paced the creaky floors for a while as Gail slid down to the floor and rested. After a time, she started to nod off and catch herself as her head pitched forward.

“They’re comin’! Get up!” He barked.

Gail was disoriented when she came to and looked around the darkened room. Josiah hoisted her up with one hand easily and she stumbled forward, the scabs on her knees opening again as he forced her out the front door towards the wide street that ran parallel with the mesa. He pushed her forward along the fronts of the shacks and then grabbed her arm, nearly dragging her across the muddy street towards a large building. The break in the clouds allowed a glint of tiny moonlight, enough to see an old wooden wagon nesting against the barn. He flicked back the oilskin.

“B-bugs?” She trembled.

He chuckled. “She’s been fed to the vampires and she worries about bugs.” He looked around inside. “Not a one!”

“Josiah?” She asked as he lifted her up into the wagon.

“What, sweetheart?”

She chuckled. His rusty voice and funny expressions endeared him to her in such a short time. Her life depended upon him and so far he’d shown extraordinary desire to keep her intact. It was as if the cowboy saw her as his redemption. She hoped that were so.

“Tuck down in there, don’t peek out for nothin’. If I come back, I’ll knock on the side three times. Got it? Otherwise, stay here. Promise me?”


He patted her hair awkwardly. “Don’t be scared. Ya got this far, huh?”

She nodded.

“Don’t say I never gave you a gift.” He said as he lowered a metal pipe into the wagon. “Use it as a weapon if ya have to, dear.”

She smiled at his words and tucked herself under the bench as he flicked the tarp over the wagon. She hugged the pipe to her chest as if it were her most cherished gift.

Gail listened breathlessly for a long time before she finally felt safe and easily slid into a deep slumber.

Cool damp air hit her body and Gail shivered. Then, she awakened with a start as her bed was shaking. Three dark figures stood above her, peering into the carriage. She tucked in under the bench, but it was too late. One arm reached in and a hand grabbed her ankle, dragging her out. A light flashed into her eyes and she madly swung the iron pipe, making contact with flesh. Someone yanked the pipe from her hand, another hoisted her over his shoulder. She screamed out and wrestled him as he slammed her to the ground.

The air swooshed from her lungs and she was dazed and helpless to defend herself as two of them grabbed her upper arms and nearly dragged her towards the mesa. She wasn’t going to make this easy for him. It wasn’t just about her survival now. It was also about Josiah getting a second chance. She collapsed, refusing to walk and making them have to deal with her lifeless body.

“God dammit!” One of them barked.

“Just pick her up! We don’t wanna cut her all up. He may not take kindly to her losing blood.”

“Josiah!” She screamed out.

“Shut up!” The man holding her barked.

“Josiah!” She screamed it again, the sound of it echoing off the mesa with a desperate resonance.

The man handed her off to another and she took that moment to fall to the ground and try to get away, but he pulled her back up by the belt loop of her shorts and Gail clawed and gave it her all. The three of them surrounded her, grabbing at her flailing arms and legs as she screamed for Josiah.

A glowing light from the ledge above them drew the men’s eyes up the mesa. Gail blinked against the light of the torch.

“Let her go. Now!” Josiah rasped.

“He’s one of them!” The man holding told her. “Jimmy hung himself from that tree up there on the mesa to try and be invincible and he died. There’s only one way this son-of-a-bitch lived so long. They brought him to their side. He’s gonna feed you to them if he doesn’t eat you himself!” The man shook her until her teeth rattled.

Gail studied Josiah up on the ledge as if Moses had come to command the crowd. She was in awe of his long-legged stride as he came around the bend towards them with nothing to lose. He was, after all, immortal.

And the men acted accordingly. As a group, they all stepped back.

“Hand her over.” Josiah instructed.

The big man holding her hoisted Gail over his shoulder. She gasped as the air expressed from her lungs. He turned away and cut into the crags of the mesa as the other two men went at Josiah. Gail saw the shaky dancing of a flashlight. He was holding her with only one hand. Gail wiggled to slide down his shoulder. He slapped his hand on her buttocks and they dove into the dark opening.

The terror rose up in her throat again. She was back inside the mines! The man tossed her to the ground and Gail grabbed the wall of the cave to steady herself as stars danced in her vision.

“Leave her.” A deep voice commanded, echoing on the hard surfaces.

As the man backed away from her, Gail turned to run out with him when she was pulled back into the pitch black abyss by her hair.

“Come.” The voice commanded. The glow of red eyes so high near the ceiling held hers. Gail couldn’t look away, didn’t want to look away. All the pain in her body subsided, her heart beat slowed, her reactions became sluggish as she took a step closer and swayed.

“Oh no ya don’t!”

With one painful reminder she was mortal, Gail felt a tug on her upper arm. Josiah swung her behind him and held up his torch. “This is where ya get what’s comin’ to ya!” Josiah held her and pushed the creature back into the recesses of the tunnel with a slow game of storming and retreating. The creature hissed lowly and refused to go quickly back down the tunnel.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart.” He told her. “I got the kerosene all over the place.” He assured her. “And I poured a bucket of it down the hole in their vault.” He whispered hoarsely. “When I tell you, run for the entrance.”

“What about you?” She trembled.

“The best thing that could happen to me is to finally meet my end, honey.”

“No!” She cried out and tugged on his arm. “What if they were right, Josiah? What if you can get out of the curse?”

He snickered in disbelief and waved the flame before the creature.

She went up on her toes and grabbed his rough face, her lips meeting his cool ones. She heard a low rumble in his chest as his arm tightened around her, the other one holding the flame in the air protectively. She coaxed his lips to soften as she kissed him, hoping with all her being she could somehow impart a good spell on his blackened soul. Then, she felt him kiss her back, a groan escaping his lips. He pulled her away from him and gestured.

“Get goin’ to the openin’, doll.”

“Not without you!” She tugged his arm.

For a moment, she saw him ponder his fate. He looked up at the flame and then back at her. For a moment, she saw something change in his eyes. They no longer glowed like liquid silver in the darkness. In fact, she couldn’t see his eyes in the dark for the first time.

He howled in triumph and tossed the torch. Gail wanted to see, but Josiah shoved her towards the entrance and she rushed from the cave into the clean night air just as an explosion shook within and flames spewed from the entrance.

“We did it!” Josiah laughed as he scooped her up and swung her around.

Gail was dizzy with relief.

“Just one more thing to do.” He told her. “Ya got to get down there to the carriage.”

“Not again.” She moaned.

He laughed the first genuine laugh since she met him. “The men ain’t gonna bug ya. I took care of them.” He told her. “It’s a safe place to stand while I finish off these creatures.”

Gail stumbled her way down the hillside to the carriage, looking back to see Josiah above the cave prying with a wooden board at a boulder. The mountain roared as boulders of all sizes came tumbling wildly down the hillside to pool in front of the mine entrance.

She heard him howling with joy on the mesa and imagined him jumping up and down like a big kid. Laughter erupted from her throat. No more generations of men would exchange females for gold. And Josiah could live a real life instead of a facsimile.

He joined her down there, grabbing her up and swinging her around one more time. The silence in the night took on a different tone. It no longer felt ominous and as if the darkness were hiding something. Instead, the surroundings felt beautifully natural and innocent.

“Ya did it, Gail!”

She blinked when he grinned at her in the faint sliver of moonlight. Did he just call her “Gail?”

“You’re the one who killed them off.” She told him.

“No, no. Ya turned me back.”

“I did? How do you know?”

He lifted his head back and inhaled, then opened his eyes and looked around and then cocked his head to the side for a moment.

“The night vision is gone, I can only smell what I should smell, and I can’t hear things in the distance distractin’ me!”

“Your eyes don’t glow either.” She confessed.

“Jesus, Mother Mary!” He howled.

When Gail looked up at the mesa as if unsure it was truly over, Josiah looked up too.

“It’s over.” He assured her. “Now, what can we do to get your vehicle goin’?”

“What about you?” She asked as they made their way to her SUV.

He made a noncommittal sound.

“There’s nothing for you here, Josiah. No way to make a living. No food supply. You’d be all alone in this awful place and you’ve spent enough time here.” She told him, reaching out and taking his rough hand. “Come with me.”

“To the city?” He balked.

She shrugged.

“Ya goin’ past Benson?”

She nodded.

“Ya can drop me off there. There’s a bar I really like. Can’t wait to have a drink again.”

“You think the bar is still there?”

He chuckled. “Where the hell’s it gonna go?” He hooted. “It’s only been 90 damn years!”

Gail smiled and turned away, considering the pavement, cars, neon signs, billboards, and other trappings of modern life. If his bar wasn’t there, she was hijacking him back to Phoenix to start a new life at her ranch house. She always wanted horses but knew nothing about how to ride of care for them. After all, she owed the 100-and-something-year-old an honest living now that she restored his life.



  1. Thanks Jessica; I've had a few people read it who told me to make it into a novella so I can focus more on the vampires and maybe a prologue to introduce how Josiah became undead...thinking about it.

  2. WHOA! I came here via Cat in the Moon...I got up early to go out and plant my flowers but have been sitting here spellbound, reading!
    It's been a long time since anything caught my interest like that! It's like I could see a movie playing out in front of me with all your amazing description.I have to be your next follower!
    I will be back to read more of your blog etc. AFTER I get those flowers planted! LOL!

  3. Oldblackcatboo;
    I'm so glad you found my blog--you'll be very welcome here--my follower are my buds'

  4. Yeah, it is finished. I like how you ended it. It does make me think not to go off-roading to remote abandoned towns alone. If I go it will be with friends and weapons.....this reminded me of The Hills Have Eyes.....very creepy!

  5. Hey Julie;
    I've gotten a reaction from most folks that I should consider lengthening it into a novella and having more about the vampires and how Josiah became undead. I kind of like the idea. I so love the setting and the characters that I don't want to let them go. I also didn't get to delve into Gail's general distrust of men and how Josiah also is her salvation in making her believe in a man. Did you guess which follower Josiah was based upon? I let him know that a character was fashioned after him and he seemed pleased.