Proof of Concept: The Vampire Cowboy Thing
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Okay, let’s get this out of the way: I have no idea what I am doing. A few weeks ago I uploaded a snip it of a story I had rattling around my empty head about a vampire cowboy and a vampire hunter having a grand ol’ Mexican standoff. It seems to have resonated with people and, well, here we are. Me actually writing the damned thing.
Look, I dunno how this is going to turn out. Again, I don’t know what I’m doing. But you’re here, I’m here, you want vampires, and who am I to refuse?
Ground rules: I kind of know where the story is going. I don’t know how long it’s going to be. I don’t know how often it will be updated. I’m going to aim for at least once or twice a month. Don’t mistake this for a professional endeavor and, please, lower your expectations. It doesn’t even have a title yet. It’s only going to be lightly edited so sometimes the language might be clunky or inelegant or I might use the wrong “than”. It’s also not going to be exactly historically accurate, since all I know about westerns comes from John Ford movies, playing Red Dead Redemption, and listening to Orville Peck. I’m sorry, like I said, lower those expectations. We all good? Okay then, let’s do this thing.
Thank you for being here. Please leave a comment or reply on Twitter if you enjoy it and share it with your friends. Much obliged.
In The Dead of Night
The desert was hot and still. Nothing moved, the air heavy like a blanket tossed carelessly over the valley. There was no insect buzz or snake rattle, nothing from the owl perched on the nearby saguaro. The world had paused, breath held, as two men had each other trapped at gunpoint under the moonlight. A black horse stood behind one, still as the grave, while a brown mare lay bleeding out behind the other, even her dying wheezing silenced.
“Damn shame.” the one man said, a faded black cowboy hat atop too-long, greasy hair. The other man, blonde stubble dusting his jaw from days on the road, brown duster crowned with sweat-stained shearling, said nothing and kept his revolver trained on his quarry.
“Yeah,” black cowboy hat said again, “damn shame. So many critters burrowing so many holes out here, one wrong step and, well, you know. And you so far from civilization. You’ll die out here.”
“Way I see it, we’re both dyin’ out here.” brown duster said.
Black cowboy hat sighed. “You hunters, always so dramatic. Can’t you let a man live?”
“You’re not a man, you’re an abomination.” he spat.
“Sweet talk me all you like, darlin’, it don’t change your situation.”
“Won’t be night much longer.” brown duster said, conversationally. Black cowboy hat scowled. The sky above was already starting to change in that small, imperceptible way that signaled the dawn, not so much something you could see but some feeling deep in the marrow. “Like I said, guess we’re both dyin’ out here. Or you could end this gracefully, honorably. Last rites and everything. Give you a fighting chance when you get to the otherside.” A rosary was wrapped around his gun, cracked red beads clutched in his sweaty hand, the crucifix against his trigger finger.
Black cowboy hat growled, sharp canines on display like a cornered, rabid dog. He tightened the grip on his own pistol, looking for a way out of this standoff. He knew he had gotten lax in that one horse town, with that saloon girl, but how was he to know a bonafide hunter had been nearby? There had never been a situation he couldn’t worm his way out of and he refused to become another jumble of bleached bones in this godforsaken place.
“Last rites and everything, huh.” he said. “That so.”
“Figured it was the gentlemanly solution, seeing as I’m gonna steal your horse afterwards. I mean, you won’t be needin’ him.”
“Hah.” the vampire had to admit he liked this idiot’s moxie. Most hunters refused to get their hands too dirty. They were usually high society types. This one was sunbaked and rough.
“You’re wasting moonlight.” the hunter said, sing-songy. The vampire smiled to himself, realizing a third solution had been right in front of him the entire time.
“Yeah, you’re right. Alright, but you swear on getting the last rites?”
“Swear on my mother’s tombstone.”
They negotiated an end to the stand off, both slowly holstering weapons. The hunter kept his rosary clutched in his fist and slowly walked closer to the vampire, starting to chant all the proper words.
The vampire watched him keenly, waiting like a coiled rattlesnake, watching for the moment he got into striking distance. The hunter should have been more cautious, a smiling vampire is just the same as a rattling snake. It’s both warning and bragging. Here I am, it says, I am dangerous and I will kill you. Stay back.
The hunter did not stay back. One step too close and the vampire was on him, knocking them both down to the hard, parched ground. The hunter didn’t have time to even scream, preternatural speed besting him. His shirt collar had been open against the heat and fangs found their mark without problem. He struggled, crying out, hands searching for his revolver or his knife, rosary tangling his fingers. The vampire couldn’t help but briefly revel in the sharp tang of blood, the scent of sweat and incense on his skin.
The vampire held the hunter down until he went limp. When he was sure the fight had gone out of him, he sat up and took a moment to glance over his handiwork. The hunter’s eyes were half-lidded and distant. Still alive but barely. He grabbed his hat, knocked off in the passion of the moment, and shoved it back on before grabbing a blade at his hip. A swift, almost cavalier flick of his wrist and the blade opened up a vein on his wrist excited to oblige, welling up with thick, lurid blood.
The road got real lonely. It would be nice to have a partner around, for a bit.
The first day was always a bitch.
He had managed to drag the hunter into the meager shade of a rock outcropping, barely enough for the both of them. The man mumbled and shifted fitfully, eyes rolling under their closed lids like a spooked horse. The vampire watched him, hat in his hands. Always a weird process, death but not dying. Reminded him of some shit he saw at the World's Fair once. Dry ice. Going from solid to smoke without going liquid in between. Skipping a step. Being a vampire was like being immortal dry ice.
The hunter groaned, chin crusted with blood, mouth slack. The vampire leaned against him as the blazing sun trekked slowly across the sky.
"They come in pairs," the hunter said, voice dry and dreamlike, mumbling snatches of prayers and curses. "Someone get me to a doctor. Someone get me to a church."
The vampire sighed. He wished he'd get busy dying. The hunter's body was like sitting next to a boiler, pouring sweat and radiating heat. It was a special bonus misery as the oppressive heat of the day set in, like an overweight house cat parked in front of the bolt hole of a mouse. The vampire hated feeling trapped like vermin.
"Guess I should enjoy the silence while it lasts. You are going to be fightin’ mad when you're conscious. Start of a beautiful partnership and whatnot."
Outside, tied to the rocks, his black stallion snorted.
"I mean, a beautiful partnership apart from OUR beautiful partnership. Apologies."
"Fuck you," murmured the Hunter.
"Wasn't apologizing to you, sweetheart. God, you're both fucking impossible."
The horse whinnied, tossing his head.
"Oh, lay off!" The vampire put his head in his hands, massaging his eye sockets. The light was giving him a headache. He positioned himself as well as he could, dropped his hat over his face, and tried to sleep away the rest of the daylight. Besides him the hunter moaned in pain. With a sigh, the vampire wrapped an arm around him.
"It'll be alright. Just you wait. You and I? We're gonna have fun together."
The hunter stared up at the night sky. His body felt strange, like it was suddenly too light. His ears rang and his eyes watered. He tried to sit up but his body refused, sending him back down into the dust of the ground. It was worse than the most dire hangover he’d ever had, and he’d had some real doozies in his time. Bravely keeping a plaintive whimper to himself, he turned over on his side and hung onto the earth for dear life. He couldn’t remember what he had drank the night before, which was usually a real bad sign. Another attempt at standing got him to his knees and with a full body shudder he vomited all over the ground.
A cool hand was soon against his feverish brow, brushing back sweat soaked hair.
“It’s okay, Leon. This part is the worst. You’ll feel loads better once you get it all out.” a voice said. The hunter turned his head just a little and saw the surprisingly concerned face of that damned vampire.
“You.” Leon said, voice shaky.
“Now, that’s not right. We should be on a first name basis now, after all. You can call me Jack.”
“Jack Stryker. I know. I did my research.”
Jack laughed a bit, helping Leon to sit.
“That so? Don’t think you did a good enough job of it. Nice to know my reputation precedes me, though. Always wanted to be famous.”
“More like notorious.” Leon said, trying to get his wits back. He felt a little better after throwing up, though his head still felt like he had been kicked by a particularly angry mule.
“Same thing.” Jack said with a shrug. Leon scowled as his brain slowly started to get up to speed.
“How the fuck do you know who I am?”
“Ah, I also did my research,” Jack said with a flourish of his hand. “I went through your pockets like any good criminal would. Leon Carpenter. I can’t begin to tell you how honored I am to have gained the attention of one of the storied Carpenters. Didn’t know you had made it out west this far.”
“Oh, be quiet.” Leon said, dropping his head into his hands. “What did you do to me? I’ve never felt so sick in my whole goddamn life.”
“Mm. About that.” Jack said. Leon listened as Jack explained. He asked him to repeat himself and the monster was more than happy to do so, an obnoxious grin on his sharp, thin face. Turning around for proof, he looked more closely at what had been forced up and out of his gullet. The remains of a meager meal on horseback and horrifyingly large clots of blood that glistened in the moonlight.
“Well, fuck,” Leon groaned before passing out again.
Leon woke up, gently swaying to and fro. It took a few blinks before he realized he was on horseback, face resting against the thick black mane of the vampire’s mount. Behind him was something solid and cold, the vampire himself.
“You’re awake again. Feelin' better?” he asked, conversationally, as if he hadn’t just murdered him like an opportunistic snake in the grass.
“Demon.” Leon said.
“I believe you’ll find the correct term is “vampire”, Leon. I would have thought they’d teach you that in fancy hunter school or wherever it is you people learn to sharpen your stakes.”
“Har har.” the hunter said, slowly sitting up. He was annoyed to find he did feel better. He felt less ill and hungover but it had left him feeling wrung out and empty.
“Steady there, you’re gonna feel all foal-legged for a bit still. I got you. We’re almost back into town. We passed your nag on the way back, poor thing. While you were out I took the liberty of gathering all your things from her. This ain’t no place to be without your saddle.”
Leon mulled this over. The horse had been newly purchased and while he lamented the death of fine horseflesh to a broken foreleg in a prairie dog hole, he hadn’t really bonded with the mare. His saddle, on the other hand, that was almost as old as he was, along with the rest of his gear. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he was grateful.
“Thanks.” he said haltingly, after a pause. He felt the vampire shrug behind him.
“When we’re in town you can buy another one. We won’t stay long there. They know us now. It’s always a mistake to stay in a place too long. Ain’t that right, Shadow?” the black horse snorted and shook its head, bridle jingling. The vampire laughed.
“How long have I been out?” Leon asked, looking over his shoulder at Jack. The moonlight was much brighter than he remembered and he could see so much more than usual in the gloom.
“Only one night.”
“Takes seven nights to make a vampire.” Leon said, plucking the knowledge from a dusty shelf in his memory, suddenly vividly remembering the stale lectures of a scarred, one-eyed priest when he was just a boy. He had gone to a very different type of Sunday School. “If you don’t drink any blood, you don’t become a vampire. After seven nights, the curse is lifted. It doesn’t stick. You become human again. I can fight this. I’ll make it out of this alive and then I’m cutting your evil head clear off your foul body.”
“That what they’re teaching you these days?” Jack laughed. “No one makes it seven nights. I’m older than I look and I’ve never heard of anyone making it past seven nights. Hell, I only made it to three.”
“You resisted it?” Leon asked, turned back to look at Jack. The vampire’s hat was pulled low, the shadows forming skeletal hollows under his gaunt cheekbones. “You fought it? Why?”
Jack said nothing, his mouth set in a thin line. He had gone still as stone behind Leon and even the horse slowed his walk, as if he too could sense something was wrong. The vampire nudged the horse and moved them into a canter, hurrying them back to town. Leon grabbed at the horse’s mane, trying to keep his balance as the quicker speed jostled him. His mind was as still as a pond on a windless day, though. There was one thought he held onto, like flotsam a shipwrecked sailor had scrabbled onto, like Pandora clutching an empty box containing Hope crammed into a corner. He tried to shore up his resolve even as he felt nausea crawl insidiously around in his belly. Seven nights. He only had to make seven nights.
One night already down. Six nights to go.