Part III: So I Ran With The Devil
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Here we go again.
The vampire cowboys are back at it again. As a writing experiment, I have to admit I am having a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy reading it too.
I swear I will have a mailing list or something up at some point, once I figure that out. For right now, please enjoy the continued bad choices of Leon Carpenter and Jack Stryker. Shoot me a message on Twitter or leave me a comment here to let me know what you think. Thanks!
So I Ran With The Devil
Leon left town without getting that hat. They left quickly, Jack pulling him along, and shoving him on his horse before galloping out of town. Panic gripped his insides, his nerves feeling like they were on fire, and it took all his willpower to stay in the saddle. Lady had a fine gait but he felt sick to his stomach all the same.
They ran for some time, until Jack called for them to stop. They were in the middle of the desert again, the moon bright as she began her promenade across the sky. Leon looked around, still in awe how everything was suddenly so clear and bright despite the darkness. It was like standing outside on a cloudy day. He had to keep reminding himself it was night time.
“This oughta be enough.” Jack said before dismounting from his horse and digging around in one of his saddle bags for something. With a little victorious noise he pulled out a small leather envelope and walked behind them. He knelt down, grabbing a handful of dirt and mixing it with a careful pinch of whatever was in the envelope. A moment’s pause, then he spat into his hand, the tang of blood suddenly sharp in the air. He mixed the concoction together between his palms before hurling it into the wind. Leon watched, wondering what that was all about. Jack stood, brushing dirt off on his trousers, before returning the envelope to some pocket of his saddle bag and mounting back up.
“What did you do?” Leon asked as they urged their horses forward again.
“Little trick to keep that assassin of yours from finding us. More importantly, what did YOU do?”
Leon sighed, shame hot on his face like a blush. He gripped his reins tighter and looked straight ahead at the scenery.
“It happened a few months ago. Maybe a year. I dunno.” he began. “When I was little, my family up and moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City. I dunno why. Never was told. Part of me thinks maybe my father had a job go wrong or something but,” he shrugged, “ Carpenters aren’t supposed to ask questions.” A pause. A sigh. “Anyway, there was a Hunter church there. Built and established by our group, one of the last bastions of hunter civilization before all the godless territories and what not. I grew up in that church. Learned all about being a hunter. I kind of hated it.” he laughed, self deprecating and hollow. Jack listened silently.
“Well, you know, when you’re a kid you don’t wanna do anything anybody tells you. And there was this one priest there, had one eye and a mean temper. I hated his guts. He was the head priest, head teacher. Probably would have been made cardinal in the city if it hadn’t been for me. He decided what assignments to send me on, he’d plot all the matchmaking between the hunter families. Total busybody. Total authority.
“We had a special visitor, come all the way from back in civilization. From Europe. Old country stuff. They called her a Saint. And she looked it too, Jack. She was pretty but she was so cold. So otherworldly somehow. Don’t rightly know how to explain it. Wish I could say I knew why she had been there. Something to do with blessings, miracles. Some big push to start to cleanse the wilds here of, well, your kind. The Unnaturals. The Abominations. The Affronts to God.”
“You flatter me.” Jack grinned. Leon ignored him.
“I was in the church that day. I fought with him. We were shouting right there near the altar. He grabbed me and I shoved him and he fell back into all the candles and, well, he went up like a dry tree in a lightning storm.” Leon gulped hard. “I’ll never forget the screaming. He had on so many robes and things and, well, I tried to help. I tried to put him out, but the fire spread and soon the church itself was on fire. And then the Saint came marching down the aisle, demanding to know what I was doing. She acted like I was possessed. She was screaming and he was screaming and I panicked. I ran. I pushed her out of my way, right into the flames, and I hightailed it out of there.”
Jack whistled low. “Damn.”
“Church burned to the ground, in the end. Heard they found charred skeletons inside. Holy bones. New relics. I grabbed my things and I was on the next train out of town as soon as possible. I couldn’t face what I had done. The shame of it. The sin of it.” Leon shook his head.
“So, you went after me for penance.” the vampire said.
“I thought, if I came home with a notorious dead vampire’s head in my bag, well, they’d forgive me. Imagine how lucky I thought I was when I heard about you from those saloon girls. You were my chance. My salvation. I’d be a hero if I went home and said I had slayed the Serpent of the Rio Grande.”
“Is that what they’re calling me nowadays?” Jack’s mouth curled into a satisfied grin. “That’s good. I like that one.”
“Anyway, that didn’t go according to plan.” Leon shot Jack a look but Jack just kept smiling his Cheshire Cat smile.
“Fine story, hunter. If anything, you should be thanking me. I imagine a good Catholic like yourself goes to the real bad Hell after burning a church. That’s the kind of shit they ascribe to “my kind” but I can guarantee I ain’t never burned down a church.” Jack delighted in the scowl on Leon’s face. “So who is this assassin you said you saw back in town?”
“Aurélie Boucher, the Butcher of Baton-Rouge. The Bouchers are an old fur trading family from Canada, but really they’re all over the place now. They’re primarily werewolf hunters. Guess they specialized in it once they ran out of beavers and minks to gun down. Either way, I guess she got bored with hunting wolves and started lending out her services to hunt other hunters.”
“Well, fuck.” Jack said. “Don’t think my dusty ol’ head in a burlap sack was gonna convince anyone who would send that hellhound after you to forgive and forget. She doesn’t sound like she comes cheap.”
Leon chewed on his lip, still looking ahead.
They rode in silence for a stretch as the moon traveled overhead, unhurried and unbothered by the plight of two lowly vampires below.
“Where are we going, anyway?” the hunter asked, glancing over at his unlikely new vampire partner.
“I know a place we can lay low for a bit. Someone owes me a favor. It’s a long ride, though. We should get there before sunrise.”
The sky had begun to go pink at the very edges of the horizon and Leon was asleep in his saddle. Jack had forgotten how quickly the oncoming dawn tired out new vampires. He could stay awake well into the morning but he knew he was older than most. He kept an eye on him to make sure he didn’t slide off his horse, but was otherwise not overly concerned. They were nearly at their destination.
A proud series of adobe and wood buildings jutted from the sparse landscape, miles and miles away from anything even remotely close to civilization. A spindly cross stood on the tallest building, small windows squinting out at the desert as if it didn’t trust the cacti and the rocks for a second. A small wooden sign sat crookedly near the entrance, faded letters proclaiming this to be the Misión de la Devoción de los Siete Dolores de María. A slender Mexican man stood near the sign, arms crossed. He wore a faded brown habit tied with a length of undyed rope, a white priest’s collar, and a frown.
“Well hello padre.” Jack said, once he was in hearing range. He took off his hat and waved it cheerfully.
“You, Jack Stryker, are a bad penny.” The priest said, striding forward to take the reins of Leon’s horse.
“Ain’t I just.” Jack grinned.
“What brings you to my door this time?” he glanced at Leon. “With another new vampire?” the frown softened. “Jack, not again.”
The vampire slid off his horse and hurriedly grabbed Lady’s reins from the priest. The priest dutifully went around and gathered Leon out of his saddle. He hefted the sleeping vampire over his shoulder.
“You can tell me everything when you are inside. It’s getting light out. You know where the stables are.” With that, the priest carried Leon inside. Jack huffed for a moment before taking the horses around the back.
It was infuriating when someone knew your past.