Part IV: And Burn My Shadow Away
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Here I am, back again, to bring you the trials and tribulations of our heroic (?) vampire duo.
I'll admit, with *gestures broadly to everything* going on, this was a little like pulling teeth. Also, it's a whole lot of feelings. I promise that soon we will be getting into gun fights and the occult and exciting shit like that but, for now, it's feelings. In this chapter we meet the priest of the half-abandoned Mission in the middle of nowhere and get a little more insight into what makes Jack Stryker tick.
After this, shit is about to get wild.
Thank you for reading. Let me know how you enjoy it. And, if you don't know the song from the title, I encourage you to take a listen at the official Spotify playlist for this story, it's a good one.
And Burn My Shadow Away
A scratching, burning pain dredged Leon from his sleep. It felt almost like a biting insect and he tried to swat it away from his chest. He heard voices and then a hand on his shoulder, unbuttoning his shirt. The pain went away and he sighed and let himself tumble back into sleep for a moment. He could have drifted longer but his brain spoke up, wondering how they were now in a bed when the last thing he remembered was being on his horse. His eyes shot open in a panic and he tried to sit up, looking around wildly.
“Calm down, calm down.” a man in priest robes said, helping him to sit up. Jack stood in a corner, hat off and damp hair curling around his neck. The small room was basic but clean, the white walls undecorated save for a large wooden crucifix. The bed was plain, the sheets rough. Leon could not have been more startled to see a man of the cloth there, helping them.
“Wha-” he started, his voice flecked with rust from sleep.
“He’s a friend.” Jack said. The priest turned and gave him a look. “Well, at any rate, he owes me a few favors, is all. We’re safe here.”
“It’s alright, Leon.” the priest said, turning back to look at him with kindly eyes that looked too old to be in such a young, unlined face. In fact, he looked to be close to Leon’s age of twenty and change. “I am Father Lazarus de la Cruz.” Jack snickered in his corner. The priest rolled his eyes. “It’s a little family joke.”
Leon blinked, utterly lost as to what the joke was. “How does a priest owe you favors?”
Jack grinned and the priest shook his head.
“Don’t ask. I see you’re in deep with him as well. Anyway, here, take this. Jack tells me it’s your second night and this was already giving you trouble.” Father Lazarus handed him a piece of undyed cloth, folded over itself. Leon opened it and stared down at the rosary he usually wore around his throat. He felt his body go cold as he remembered the burning on his chest. His skin was unblemished where the cross usually rested.
“I don’t understand,” Leon said. “If crosses hurt me, why can I look at the big ol crucifix up there with no trouble?”
“It ain’t crosses. We’re in a dang mission right now, surrounded by holy grounds. Dang thing is made of silver and no matter what shape it’s in, that shit smarts.” Jack had walked over, looking at the rosary in Leon’s hands more closely. Leon bundled it back into the fabric and shoved it into his pocket.
“Thank you for your hospitality, father. I appreciate it.”
“See, Jack? This one at least says thank you. Would it kill you to do the same?” Jack rolled his eyes at the priest. “Once you’re ready, I have a place you can bathe and freshen up.”
Jack and Father Lazarus stepped outside to give Leon a chance to wake and take care of himself. The priest looked at the taller vampire and sighed.
“She’s outside, you know. Just beyond the fence. You should go out and see her.”
Jack frowned, chewing on the inside of his cheek as he mulled the words over. Father Lazarus patted his arm before turning to walk down the hall and ready the bath.
“Say, Padre, what happened to, damn, what was his name-”
Father Lazarus stopped, spine rigid.
“He’s outside too. Inside the fence.”
“What? But I thought you two-”
“It was a fever. He went… much too fast. These things happen.” The priest shook his head and walked into a different room in the hallway, leaving the vampire alone. Jack, unsure what to do as the awkwardness hung in the air like incense, walked back through the building and out into the moonlit night.
The little bath the Father had set up for him was paradise. It had been weeks since Leon had taken a real, honest to god soak. He had taken so much of this kind of thing for granted before. As he washed and scrubbed he took stock of his body, looking over every part of himself to see if the bite had changed anything. To his relief everything seemed to be the same. He felt surprisingly normal, apart from a bit of parched throat. The road must have made him thirsty and when he was clean he would ask the father for something to drink. For now, he let himself indulge in the water, not knowing when his next real bath would be.
Leon leaned back against the tin basin and stared at his knees as he considered his options once again. He had six nights now to survive or else he would become an unholy creature of the night (not an option), he had somehow fallen in with a vampire as his new partner (less than ideal), and a famed bounty hunter for the supernatural set was after him (a definite problem). It all seemed so impossible, as if it was all happening to someone else. He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that this twist of fate had befallen him.
The water grew cold and, heaving a sigh, he finally pulled himself out of the bath and dried off. He brushed the worst of the dust off his clothes and pulled them back on. Unable to stop years of ingrained manners, he tidied up the little room as well. He was a guest, after all. For some ungodly reason a priest had given them sanctuary. It felt rude to not clean up after himself.
Leon walked out into the hall, a spring in his step. The thirst was a constant little thought in the back of his mind so he went looking for Father Lazarus. The Mission was beautiful and simple and he marveled at it as he walked around. It felt old and weighty. Leon had spent his life in old churches, handling relics and antiques. He knew the specific smell years left on a place.
Father Lazarus spotted him from the other end of the hall and walked over with a patient smile, hands clasp in front of him. “There you are. Feeling better?”
“Nothing like a soak to make a man feel like a million bucks. Thank you, father. And thank you for giving us shelter. I dunno what there is between you and Jack but, well, I am grateful at least.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Jack is… an interesting character.”
“One way to put it, I suppose.” Leon said. “The charitable, Christian way. My way wouldn’t be fit to be heard in a place like this.”
Father Lazarus laughed. “Oh, this place has heard it’s fair share of things. You’d be surprised.”
Leon couldn’t help but grin back. “Say, where is the old snake anyway?”
“Outside. Couldn’t hurt for you to go and see him.” the priest gestured to the back of the hall, a door leading to the yard. “Would be good for him, I think.”
Leon gave the priest a look but followed his instructions all the same. He walked out into the yard, the moon high overhead. The heat of the day had been leached away by the night and the air was cool on his skin.
The yard was small. There was a patch where someone was trying in vain to grow vegetables and a well that looked as if it had seen better days. To one side was the walk down to what had to be the stables and ahead was a simple, ragged fence containing a garden of simple, ragged headstones. Leon sucked in a breath, surprised. He wasn’t sure why he was shocked, cemeteries often came paired with churches but it seemed odd here. He opened the gate and walked through reverently, glancing at the dates on the stones as he passed. The Mission was far older than he thought if the dates were anything to go by. Two or three hundred years old and Spanish by the looks of it.
Jack stood at the very back of the cemetery like a scarecrow. His tall, thin body loomed like a monster out of the overwrought gothic stories his sister used to sneak past their mother and read by candlelight. Leon walked over slowly, as if Jack was an animal that could be startled into bolting or attacking.
He stood just outside the fencing, Leon discovered, looking down at a small, rough wooden plank that had been driven into the dirt and propped up by the fence behind it. Leon scrambled inelegantly over the barrier and came up besides his erstwhile partner.
The grave marker had been carved with an inexpert hand, the letters different sizes and shapes crammed together. He read the name but didn’t say it aloud. Jack stared down at it, not acknowledging Leon’s presence. He was frowning, arms crossed as if he didn’t know what else to do with them.
“Jack?” Leon hazard but Jack ignored him. Leon stood vigil with him regardless, wondering about the person who had been buried just inches outside of consecrated grounds.
After a few moments had passed, Jack sighed. “She’s down there because of me. She was reckless. But she was reckless because of me.”
“I… I’m sorry for your loss.” Leon said. Jack snorted at the nicety.
“I turned her. We had a good run. But she didn’t make it. No one around me seems to make it.” Jack looked over at Leon, expression unreadable. “Wonder how long you’ll last.” With that, Jack walked off, digging a cigarette out of his shirt pocket.