Published on Thursday, November 1, 2012
By Amanda Foti
Lou whooped at his cattle from atop his mare, Darlin. Night was approaching fast, but so was the next town. He swore at himself as he wondered why he couldn't push on as fast as he used to. Riding solo was his motto, and he no intention of changing it because of a few drives. If he could make it before nightfall, he'd have a room in his employer's house and enough money to finally vacation in Tombstone for a while.
"Don't tease me now." He staggered over to her and mounted only to find his Stetson a few feet beyond the mare. He groaned and urged Darlin forward. As the mare approached the hat, Lou commanded, "Fetch."
Darlin snatched up the hat and strained her neck to pass it to him.
"Good girl." Lou positioned it back on his head. He patted her neck and pondered, Now, where was that herd?
The tracks told him enough, and he found them grazing over a hill. Might as well say goodbye to that room. He thought to himself as he counted head. To his surprise every cow was present, but they had been tampered with. A third of the group possessed puncture marks as if a mountain lion had decided to bite but not kill. Lou drew his rifle.
"All right you crazy bastards! Come on out where I can see yas!" Darlin danced in place and snorted. The cattle lowed and crickets chirped. Lou shivered and pulled his duster tighter. He whooped, driving the cattle from the valley, and navigated with the stars.
The following morning the marshal banged on the door to Lou's shabby room at the town's hotel. Lou answered without his shirt. The marshal's badge glistened in Lou's face.
"Is there something I can do for you, sir?" Lou leaned against the door frame with one arm over his head.
"Answer me this, boy." The marshal's tiny voice crept along Lou's skin like a startled lizard. "Just last night you brought in a herd o'cattle."
Lou didn't feel that was much of a question. "I haven't been called a boy in over twenty years, mister. The least you can do for a tired cattleman is talk nice."
"I'm sorry, partner, it's—"
"Now listen here, marshal. I ain't your partner either. How 'bout you call me by my name. Lou. Lou Miles." He extended a hand.
The marshal took it. Lou had trouble keeping his grip soft enough for the man. "It's—a pleasure—Lou."
"Now. What is it you woke me up for?"
"It's the vampires—"
"You're going to have to explain yourself a little more, marshal."
"Could you come outside? I'm sorry. This whole thing's got me a little nervous is all."
"I can see that. Let me finish cleaning up."
The marshal waited on the front porch of the inn. Lou arrived a few minutes later, clean shaven, mustache trimmed, and his rifle slung over his shoulder.
"Mister Miles. Your gun. I don't mean to be inconsiderate—"
"Didn't I hear you had a vampire problem?"
"Yes, but it's the townsfolk."
"I need to get to Tombstone."
"Nothing, marshal. Not a damn thing."
The marshal led Lou to the cattle pen. All the while Lou kept his eyes open for suspicious folk. No one seemed to mind him. They gave him the usual look for a newcomer. Curiosity with wonder. Lou could pick out other cattle drivers; they gave him hard stairs and watched how he held his rifle.
"Your people are people," Lou said.
"How do you mean?"
The marshal urged him to elaborate, but Lou was paying attention to the men by the pens. They possessed a variety of fire arms: shotguns, rifles, and the occasional derringer. Six pallbearers carried an elaborate coffin out the front of the main house. The cattlemen kept their gaze on Lou.
Lou nudged the marshal and leaned closer. "Vampire?"
The marshal nodded.
"Who was he?"
"Your employer, I believe."
Lou hesitated before continuing to the pens. He lengthened his stride, forcing the marshal to jog to keep up. "What happened here?" Lou asked the men.
They shook their heads.
"Someone's playin' a mighty fine joke on us," one said.
"Quiet! You don't know nothing!"
"You think I don't?"
"You're as crazy as a heat-stroked rattler!"
"Then he's the man I want to talk to!" Lou said. "What's your name, mister?"
"I'm Lou." They shook hands. "What have you seen?"
"Have you seen the cattle?"
Lou nodded. "Have you seen anybody do a thing like this before?"
Chuck nodded. "Every herd, friend. Every last damn head o'cattle been messed with."
"Any ideas who it might be?"
"I don't think 'who' is the proper word. It's a 'what'."
Lou sighed. This wasn't helping him get to Tombstone. With his employer dead, he needed to move the herd to get paid. All he had left was enough to buy supplies for one man, or stay in town for a few weeks and pray he would find a job. No reason to stay in this busted up place, and I have no right asking others' to spend their wages helping me. "I guess I'm drivin the herd to the next point."
"Where you going?" one of the others asked.
"Where the owner of these beasts originally wanted to go. South to Chism's land."
The men whispered amongst themselves and edged away from the pens. Chuck remained.
"That's a long way, Lou. You're going to need a second hand," Chuck said.
"Thanks, but no thanks. I work alone."
"But Mister Miles!" The marshal rushed to his side and grabbed Lou's shoulder. "I told you what was out there."
"And I don't believe neither of yas. I'm going alone. Where's my horse?"
Lou bought more ammunition for his rifle and other supplies before packing. The marshal insisted Lou take a silver cross before he left. Lou started to refuse him, but figured he wouldn't be seeing the man for a while. He had his own ideas for fending off the cattle chewer.
At dusk, he fashioned a torch out of a stout tree branch, an old rag, and lantern oil. He brandished the thing above his head as he pushed the cattle onward. Once the sun was below the horizon, Darlin tossed her head and whinnied at the clouds.
"Where are ya, you sick bastard?" Lou shouted at the brush.
"I don't mean anything by it! I promise!" the brush replied.
Darlin dashed forward, but Lou reined her in. "Show yourself!"
"Put that torch out then, if you would."
"You ain't going to do that whirlwind shit, are ya?"
"No! No! I promise."
Lou dismounted and drew his rifle. After he doused the torch in the dirt, he cocked his rifle and stayed next to Darlin. The trespasser groaned.
"Come on now. You know that's not going to do anything to me."
"It'll slow you down!"
"Well, that's true."
Lou glanced over the cattle. They were grazing as if fenced in. "What'd you do to my herd?"
"Just mellowed them a bit. It's really the only thing I can do."
"Listen, whatever you are, all I want is to drive this herd south, get my pay, and get to Tombstone."
"All I want is to survive."
Lou wondered about that. "Then why'd you kill my boss?"
"That wasn't me. That was a heart attack. Easy there, miss."
Darlin reared. Lou fired off a few rounds.
The trespasser fell to the ground, gasping for air.
"Don't touch my horse."
The trespasser coughed. "Didn't think that warranted a few shots to the gut."
"Thought you said you wouldn't be hurt that bad." Lou crept closer, finger pulling the trigger tight. The creature he came upon looked human. Dressed like a plantation owner even, but aged like a stable boy. The creature dragged himself forward with his arms. Blood oozed into the dirt.
"If you don't mind, I'm going to have to feed from one of your cows. After all you've wasted my night's supply."
"Who says I ain't going to let you starve?"
"Who says I won't kill you?" The creature glared at him. Lou had never felt threatened by a boy before, and he hadn't forgotten the previous night. Lou supposed even in the thing's current state his rifle wouldn't save him.
Lou swore as he shouldered the weapon. "I just want to go to Tombstone."
"Partners?" The vampire extended a shaking hand.
"What's your name, son?"
"Jessie. Jessie Chism."
"I hope you keep your word like a Chism."
"I'm one of the first."
Lou gave him a hard stare. "Damn it, boy. I don't want a partner."
Jessie returned the stare. "You're going to need one to get to Chism's land."
"No, I ain't!"
"Suit yourself." Jessie dissipated into a veil of ash. A cow bellowed. Lou cringed.
"I don't need no partner." He grumbled as he unpacked his things for the night. Lou lost three cows by the time he awoke. Their half-eaten carcasses plagued his mind as he rounded up the rest. During the next week, he lost too much sleep and started hallucinating. Darlin told him how boring he was, and how she longed for another horse to chat with. Lou ignored the sounds until he heard the cattle wailing in misery. He passed out atop his mare as the moon rose. A rifle shot shattered his peace.
A group of thieves on horseback surrounded him. Lou swore under his breath. He couldn't fight six men at close range.
Darlin cried. "I told you so! I told you so!"
Lou gathered his strength for his only escape. "Jessie! Jessie Chism!"
The six men glanced at one another. One shrugged. The leveled their weapons at Lou's chest. "Better to put him out of his—"
A whirlwind collided with the horsemen, revealing Jessie in its wake. The boy vampire extended a hand to Lou, easing him off Darlin. "Partners?"
"I messed up big this time."
"That wasn't what I asked."
Lou grumbled. "Partners."
A few days after Lou's recovery, he approached Jessie. "Where do you hide during the day?"
"Underground like I usually do. I don't have to breathe after all."
"Alright, that's a little unnerving."
"I'm the one doing it every morning!"
Lou laughed. "You're a weird bloodsucker."
"So I'm told."
"How do you find us?"
"Scent. It's quite simple really."
Lou shivered and watched Jessie lull the cattle to sleep. When Jessie returned, Lou thanked him.
"I finally broke through your tough shell? Glad to see it. Woulda killed ya."
Lou nodded his agreement. "Have you been to Tombstone, Bloodhound?"
"Bloodhound? I suppose it's as good a name as any. To answer your question, I've enjoyed the night life." Jessie smirked.
Lou laughed. "Bloodhound it is."
Jessie promised to meet up with Lou at Tombstone when they reached the edge of the Chism ranch. Lou didn't understand the vampire's logic. He hated to admit it, but he had grown to enjoy Jessie's stories as well as the added benefit of restful nights' sleep.
"You kept your word, Bloodhound," Lou said as he shook hands with Jessie. "I expect to see you there."
"Oh you will, Lou. It'll be impossible to miss me."
Lou chuckled wondering how Jessie was going to make an entrance into the gold mining town.
The Chisms appreciated Lou's information, and they congratulated him for his endurance and commitment. They paid him five times more than what he would have made from his previous employer. Lou wished them well and saddled up for Tombstone.
He rode in as the sun set and headed for the first saloon. Everyone inside was either gambling or drunk. Lou smiled as he took a stool. This was a vacation.
"Are you Lou Miles?" the bartender asked.
"I am. What of it?"
"There's a Jessie Chism waiting for you across the way. Something about a business proposition?"
"Is that so?" Lou left without a drink. He laughed when he saw the name of the place across the street. The Bloodhound. Jessie was wiping down a counter as Lou stepped in.
"Partners?" Jessie extended his arms, indicating the empty tables.
"I don't know a damn thing about cooking."
"You didn't know a damn thing about friendship neither."
"I suppose so." Lou placed his rifle on an octagonal table. "God damn it, Bloodhound. I ain't asked for no partnership neither."
They clasped hands.
Amanda Foti is an undergraduate student at Rosemont College. She'll receive her B.A. in English in May 2013. Amanda lives with her mechanic boyfriend and works at Pepboys on the weekends. The spare time she has is spent working on a dark fiction novel and her short story pieces.