Nothin’ good ever came from wakin’ up with a headache. Today was no different. Instead a’ that nice bed I rented in the saloon I was bound upright to a pole. The ropes nearly covered my entire body. They were tight enough that I couldn’t feel my feet and I was quickly losin’ feelin’ in my nether regions.
My right eye wouldn’t open. The eyelid felt heavy and throbbed in time with my heart. A few of my back teeth wiggled. I could taste blood in my mouth. So I’d been fightin’. Or I’d been sucker punched. Ah couldn’t rightly remember. I knew I’d been drinkin’. Could still feel the effects a that worse’n the pain in my face. The landscape seemed to spin slightly. When I closed my eyes the darkness spun faster and I nearly puked.
I looked around. I was surrounded by ratty lookin’ wood crosses. There were a few stone markers, but even those were fallin’ apart. I couldn’t rightly figger out why I’d been tied up in the town cemetery. Some sort a’ practical joke?
The sun was at the horizon, just over the town, shinin’ in my face. It took me a bit ta’ realize that I wasn’t lookin’ at the sun comin’ up, but a sunset. I’d been passed out all day. Finally the sun crept behind a mountain enough that I could see again. There seemed ta’ be a group of people comin’ from the town towards me. A few were on horses, most were walking. There were two carriages. One looked plain enough, but the other was pretty fancy. I thought that maybe they were both for me. The plain one looked had some boxes on it, some coffin sized. Maybe for my corpse if they found me dead. The fancy one mighta’ been as an apology when they found me still alive.
When they got closer I noticed that I recognized most a’ them. They were that fella’s I’d been celebrating with last night. See, the town had been sufferin’ a vampire problem. It was relatively small. Just one that had set up a nest and would feed mostly on livestock. Every so often it would take someone, most often a child or one a’ the elderly. It had been growin’ bolder. When I told people where I was goin’ they tried to warn me away. But I knew what I was getting’ into. Seemed pretty obvious it was a Rat vampire.
Rat vampires were a different breed than the Classy types. Barely even resembled the humans they once were. They lost all sort a’ rational thought. None a’ them had hair and they stunk to high heaven. Not just that inhuman stink most monsters got, but shit and sweat and rot. All Rats cared about was their next meal. In a way they were more dangerous than the Classy ones.
Classy vampires looked normal. They acted normal. They could plan. They set traps, hypnotized humans, used weapons or money to fight. Rats used their claws and teeth. They were generally opportunistic, but like a scared animal they’d jump up and bite ya’ if they felt cornered.
Like the way it always was, the town put together a huntin’ party. Like always, it failed. The reason is always the same no matter who I hear it from. They think they’re hunting a man who went crazy. They’re never prepared for something that can break a man in two like he was rotted wood. And they’re ungodly fast. If you know what you’re dealin’ with Rats are easy enough to kill. Bullets work just fine so’s long as you don’t lose your nerve.
After a second failed attempt they sent for me. The interesting thing is that it wasn’t the town proper who hired me. Normally it’s the mayor or sheriff who swallows their pride, figure out how much they can afford and then come looking. Instead it was the church. Usually they tend to be the holdouts. For all their faith in God and the man Jesus church folk tended to be highly skeptical of the otherworldly stuff. Which is surprisin’ considering the amount of time speaking a’ the torments of hell and the devil. They tended not ta’ want to deal with me. At best I’m a charlatan, at worst I’m Satan’s drinking buddy.
It didn’t help none when I had them slaughter a cow for me. Nothin’ satanic about it. Just needed the blood. My own was worthless to vampires. Didn’t know if it actually hurt them, but I’d had a handful of ‘em bite me and almost all of them ended up vomiting. So I needed some fresh blood to lure him in.
That’s how I found myself last night sprawled out on my stomach in the desert covered in blood. I got lucky. The moon was full. It was pretty easy to spot the Rat as he approached. He skirted around me, makin’ a wide circle. When he finally decided that I wasn’t gonna’ put up too much of a fight it ran forward. Right onto one a’ the bear traps I set out. Good thing, too, ‘cuz I didn’t fancy getting bit to kill the Rat.
As it shrieked and screamed and clawed at the trap and his leg in a futile attempt to get free I got up. I drew my gun and walked as close as I dared. The stake in the ground wouldn’t hold if the Rat pulled too hard. I weren’t the best shot so’s I had to make it count.
When I finally put a bullet in its head the Rat had almost clawed his leg off at the knee. After the first shot dropped it I plugged it again. Once more for good measure. Then I pulled my Bowie out and got to the real work.
I returned to the town not long after with the Rat’s head in a satchel. The townspeople barely gave me a chance to bathe before the celebration started. I tried not to drink too much. Fer one, I didn’t want to guzzle down my entire reward and have ta’ leave town with less money than I arrived with. Fer two, I wanted to make sure I weren’t hungover early in the morning so’s I could leave the town before they kicked my ass out.
But like always I drank too much. Last thing I remembered was followin’ some pretty young thing outta’ the saloon so’s I could make her keep her promises.
I wished I could remember last night. It would be a waste to have had sex with her and have no memory of it. I also hoped that whoever attacked me was feeling as bad as I was. Sure enough when the group got closer I saw that a few a’ them had black eyes and puffed up faces. A couple of ‘em was walking with pretty serious limps. Well, good on me.
“Hey, could y’all cut me down? I’d really rather not piss myself.”
Not one a’ them responded. They casually went about unloading trunks from the plain carriage. One trunk had red robes that everyone started putting on. From another trunk they pulled out various stones. The people carried them slowly, like they were holding a sleeping rattler which would bite at any sudden movement. Most troublin’ of all were the folks piling wood around my feet.
“Whoa, hey, let’s not do that. Seriously, just cut me down.”
That did not sway them. I wriggled in my bonds, but they weren’t budging. In desperation I spat at one of the men. A big glob of spittle caught him right in the eye. The other side of his face was mangled. Obviously someone who I’d tangled with last night. He yelled and started punchin’ me. Didn’t do him no good. I couldn’t feel nothing. I was wrapped up in so many ropes that his knuckled started bleeding. I laughed, which made him punch more furiously. Before he could figure out that he shoulda’ been punching my face the other, nicer carriage pulled up.
Everyone stopped moving and bowed their heads. The door opened. An old woman in a bright crimson dress waited until one of the robed men came forward and took her arm. He began walking her towards me. I saw that her eyes were milky white. She was blind, but the way she looked at me made me doubt. Despite all the weird things I’d seen in my life she still made me shudder.
It clicked that the man escorting her was the head of the church that hired me.
“Hey, buddy! Padre! Pastor! Whatever the fuck! I ain’t exactly sure what I did ta’ piss ya’ off, but, come on, I don’t deserve ta’ be burned alive. I helped you out. Got rid of that vampire that was plaguing the town. If this is ‘cuz you don’t want ta’ pay me then that’s fine. I’ll just leave.”
“We still have need of you,” the old woman said.
“I ain’t gonna’ be much used to you as a crispy critter.”
“That’s what we need you for.”
Behind her a few of robed guys were carving a circle into the dirt while others copied some sinister looking symbols around it. I’d seen somethin’ like that a long time ago when my wife got desperate. That didn’t turn out well.
“I don’t think you want to be doin’ that.”
The people gathered ‘round the circle and started chanting.
“Don’t talk down to us. We know exactly what we’re doing. So many years we’ve been sacrificin’ souls to keep our town healthy and prosperous. That bloodsucker almost ruined it by scarin’ off travelers. We nearabouts had to sacrifice one of our own until you came. Solved both our problems, yes you did. Killed the monster and provided us with a soul to sacrifice. Mighty generous of you.”
“There’s kinda’ a problem with that.”
Before I could tell her so she could stop the ceremony it was too late. The entire graveyard started to shake. The earth in the circle cracked and split. An eerie red light lit up from the hole. The air became so hot I was afraid my lungs would sear shut.
A gnarled claw grabbed a hold of the edge and pulled the rest of the demon out of the pit. It stood twice as tall as any man there, covered in dirty brown scales except in patches where there was only scar tissue. It had a head like a bull with one a’ the horns broken off. It looked at me with eyes similar to my own. Pure black, except with a bright red glow around the edges.
It walked close to me. It sniffed around my face. The reek of spoiled meat was overwhelming. Finally it looked me straight in the yes and recoiled like I shot it. The demon turned towards the old blind woman.
“Is this supposed to be my sacrifice?” The demon had a low, rumbling voice. In between words I could just make out the sounds of babies crying. Had ta’ give the old lady credit. She stood her ground even as the rest of her followers shied away. Then she spoke and the illusion crumbled.
“Yes…he’s the…I mean. Yes.”
“It is worthless!” as the demon shouted a small flash of fire came out of its mouth, “There is no soul here! It is just a husk! Where is my sacrifice?”
“There’s been a mistake. You don’t understand!”
“I understand that you are selfish and dishonorable! You want your town to survive without real sacrifice! You pick…this while, “the demon sniffed the air, “I can smell almost a dozen worthier offerings. One is particularly young. That would have gotten you years.”
One of the followers fell to the ground and threw up.
“I expected better from you. You cannot see it, but you should have taught your congregation at least how to spot a husk. This one doesn’t even hide behind magicks. His condition is easy to spot.”
“I told them. Jonas! Why didn’t you tell me about him?”
A man limped up, one of the people who kept pourin’ drinks into me all night.
“He told me his eyes were fucked up because he had the pox.”
“Did you really think this was what end-stage syphilis looks like? You moron.” I shouted.
“Give us just one more day,” the old woman said.
“That’s not our agreement.”
“Then take someone here.”
“You know they are not prepared. You also know that their souls are tainted. I get them anyway. In fact, I believe I’ve been more than generous. This,” he waved his hand at me, “is an affront and must be answered for.”
The demon wrapped his hand around the woman’s head and squeezed. Her head exploded. None of her followers were smart enough to run right then. Not like it woulda’ done a lick a’ good. The demon was impossibly fast. It ran around slaughtering them all. I watched. Nothing else to do. I couldn’t block out the screamin’. It ripped one man in half and threw the parts at two other followers. Another It lit on fire. That man ran around like a torch and then fell to the ground at my feet.
I tried wiggling again, but the ropes held as tight as they had before. I was fucked. I started prayin’ that the demon would rip another body apart and douse the flames with blood.
Ah’ was so busy worryin’ about burning to death I didn’t notice the demon ran out of people ta’ kill. I figured it was goin’ ta watch me burn. Instead it waved its claws and the flames disappeared.
“Please don’t eat me.”
“I would. If you weren’t promised to another. Be thankful.” The demon turned and started walkin’ away.
“Oh, I am. Don’t doubt it. But I’d be even more thankful if…” the demon jumped down into the hole which sealed up, “you could cut me down. Okay, thanks. Adios. Fuck.”