2010. I sat in my new office inhaling the scent of leather and suntan oil waiting for the applicant to arrive. What a winding road led me to this place–my newest business venture. You’ve heard the old cliché, just before you die, your entire life passes before your eyes? Well, I can honestly say it’s true. I thrashed and struggled to no avail as slender arms pinned me to the cot, long dark tresses swirled around my face as her mouth latched to my throat drawing out my life’s blood. She was a mere wisp of a thing, yet I was unable to free myself from her embrace. Truth-be-told, in the beginning I hadn’t wanted to. I hadn’t bedded many women in my life and it had been well nigh two years since my last. Even had that not been so, I don’t think I could have resisted. There was something in her eyes…a dark need…that drew me to her and, to my death.
1842. Momma screamed again and I covered my ears against the sound. She was dying. I knew it. Another cry came in the dark, a weak wail growing stronger as he drew nearer. Pa held a my baby sister out for inspection.
“Can ya’ hold her a bit Tommy boy, while I see to yur Ma?” He placed her in my shaking arms and turned, flipping back the quilt dividing the room.
I stared at the tiny red thing wrapped tightly in the blanket. Ma couldn’t have had a boy? The bundle wriggled and I clutched it tighter, fearing to drop her and risk a switchin’. A tiny fist appeared from the folds of cloth, poking at the rosebud of a mouth. I nudged it with my finger and hers latched round mine. I had a baby sister.
We grew wild and free, like the prairie critters, inseparable. By two, Colleen followed me everywhere. At six I had chores to do and she toddled along every step of the way making everything take twice as long to accomplish. I didn’t really mind although I never said, matter-o-fact, I complained and hollered about it most of the time. Everybody ignored me, Colleen most of all. She remained my shadow for years.
Even as more folk settled the grasslands either side the river, most times we kept to ourselves, unless there was a barn raise’n, weddin’, birthin’ or buryn’. Those times called for a party and no one did a party like the Irish. Everyone was invited, including the injuns. We got on peaceably, with our red neighbors. Us kids playin’ with theirs. Mom would’a tanned our hides if’n she knew we skinnydipped in the Miller’s stock pond. Bad ‘nough fer me. Colleen, never to be outdone by a boy, shucked her shimmy and jumped in not known’ how to swim a lick! She sank to the bottom like a sack full’a stone. Took me and Little Eagle both to pull her to the bank. Collie got her first kiss when he breathed air back into her. He got his first black eye when I laid into him. It was one thing to give her air, ‘nother entirely, when he kept his mouth on hers after. That summer I turned fifteen and Collie would have turned twelve in the fall. Would have…
The cholera took Colleen just shy of her twelfth year and Ma and Pa not long after, leave’n me to run things. Not that there was much left by then, between bad weather, the sickness, goldrushers scrapin’ the land bare on the way to California and the starvin’ injuns picking the stock off one by one. With nothing to hold me to the place but sadness, I saddled up and lit out. No interest in gold, I headed east.
I wasn’t a crack shot, but fair to middlin’ when I left the farm, which kept me fed, more or less. When I came upon a homestead or settlement I occasionally found work fer a spell. Years ran slowly, one into another and I became a man in all ways that counted. The widows took more than a passin’ interest, and not just in the chores I could accomplish for them. After a time the wanderlust always took hold and I would drift to the next place.
I wandered through to Kentucky in the spring of 1862, managing to stay out of the way of the war raging all around me, only to wake surrounded by union soldiers, one foggy April morn. Imagine my surprise opening my eyes to a ring of rifles pointed at my head.
The questioning took days, but in the end I convinced them I weren’t no Rebel. They were mighty sorry of course and insisted I stay—as a recruit. Not that I would have fought for the other side, if asked, and I wasn’t. It didn’t feel like my war. My colonel had other ideas on the subject.
I was sick to death when I shot my first man– only a boy really. My friends laughed like mules when I upchucked into the bushes. They made bold, but their eyes told a different tale. Don’t matter what you hear, killin’ don’t come easy to nary anyone, those that it does, are best kilt themselves. They’re dead inside already, just don’t know ‘nuff to fall down. I managed to dodge the bullets, though many of the friends I made weren’t so lucky. I hated the killing, but there comes a point when the will to survive is all. You just point your rifle and pull that trigger.
We fought back into a settlement, a small town called Bitter Creek. There was greater danger for the townsfolk, but also a better chance of decent food and some shelter from the night.
It was almost nightfall when we reached the town. Looked empty, deserted, at least ‘til full dark, when the townsfolk came out’a hidin’. A union town, they appeared happy to see us. We were put up in barns mostly; a few of the officers were invited to stay in homes. I had my first real bath in months– and food. They fed us well! Surprised by the meal they brought out, and grateful for a roof over our heads, we slept deeply. How were we to know?
My last thoughts were how much she reminded me of Colleen. I watched a blood-red tear glide down her cheek as my eyes closed and my heart seemed to stand still.
“Drink! Drink or forever die!”
Her words pierced the fog surrounding my…soul? Something cool and sweet filled my mouth. I swallowed. More. I latched on like it was a cob o’corn, knawin’ and smackin like Ma never taught manners.
It wasn’t, not near, but I stopped just the same. Couldn’t not. I opened my eyes to the girl. She clutched her arm to her breast. The arm lookin’ like it had been chewed on by a rabid coyote, ripped and torn and bloody. It smelled so sweet! My heart thrashed like a wild thing caught in a trap, then stilled as I watched the tears mend and the rips close. Only the blood remained. The blood.
“You may have it, little one,” her voice cool and soft. She held her arm out to me, watchin’. Wary.
I took it, careful, like you’d hold a new hatched chick, watchin’ her eyes all the while. She smiled. I gave her arm a little lick, then another. And another.
“You hunger?” She asked sweetly, her eyes solid black, like lookin’ down a well at night.
Did I hunger? The simplest answer was, yes. The twitching in my jeans, made it hard to figure out what for, exactly. I pondered that for a bit, before the pain doubled me over, black blood pourin’ from my mouth, my eyes, ears…every hole in my body bled. Sweet Jesus, it hurt!
When next I came to myself from that shadowy place, the hunger clawed at my gut. She was there and she had food. She fed daintily from a spot high on his thigh, I turned my head and she laughed a high tinkling note. I jerked when his head landed in my lap, my eyes fixed on the pulse in his throat.
“Like so.” She drew her head back showing two teeth more pointed than the rest, like the vixen she was, then, in one quick strike pierced his wrist. When the blood flowed freely she lapped, like a cat with cream, her eyes never leaving mine.
I lunged at his throat, only to be drawn up short, her hand at my scruff.
“Gently. No need to rend and tear. Food is necessary, cruelty is not.”
My eyes on hers I lowered my mouth to his throat, teeth pressing to flesh…and held. She shook her head.
“The strike must be done quickly. Once the blood flows the weapon is no longer needed.”
I ran a thumb over my teeth and felt my eyes widen. Long, pointed and sharp as a pin, like a rattler. Strike she said. Envisioning the snake, I struck. The warm liquid washed over my tongue and down my throat with the beat of his heart. The first in spurts, then a stream, the last only trickles. I sucked on the wound, needing more. More. My jeans felt tight of a sudden, and I throbbed to be released. I drew on the wound and felt the pulse below.
“Enough!” She snatched my meal from me. “We do not feed on the dead.”
I looked at the man, for he had been one, and saw only meat. He might as well have been a hare or a deer. She reached her hand out to me and I took it, allowing her to pull me to my feet.
“Come, you must bathe. You smell of the grave.”