Playing a piano is a lot like being unable to read while trying to read after getting kicked square in your head by a horse. A really…angry…horse.
I looked at all the white and black bars all lined up in a row in front of me and thought to myself, who could learn this?! With the piano player dead, and his story looking more true by each second, it wasn’t looking that any of us had the time to start learning. I started to put my fingers down in what looked to be the right way, but only a fitful sound came out. Something that sounded like a mule hauling a wagon over a cliff.
I looked to the lady still by the swinging doors to see if it did anything, but she was just shaking her head, so I figured I’d have to try a little harder. I got my hands in another position, spreading my fingers apart as much as possible, then put em down on the keys again. This was worse. It was more like the mating sounds of the Wendigo. Which if you haven’t heard, is sort of a screaming yakking sound.
Still nothing from the lady’s face, so I figured I’d try again again. I figured that the first two times I was only hitting white keys, so I decided I’d throw in the black ones with my left, and stick to white with my right. I was discovering very quickly that I was awful at this.
“If you’re going to do something, I’d suggest it be now, Jones.” The Vampire said between his teeth.
“Me?! If you hadn’t eaten the piano man, we wouldn’t be in this situation, now would we?”
“We will need my strength in a moment and you will thank me.”
“Like Hell.” I said half heartedly.
The Vampire quickly turned to me, a sudden look of enlightenment from his eyes. I didn’t know how to take it so my hand went to the gun I’d found when I got my new hat. If he’d wanted to, I’m sure he coulda come for me before I got my gun outta it’s holster, but he didn’t seem concerned with me, but rather the body of the dead piano man on the ground.
“What are you doing, Vampire?”
“I am making a solution to our problem,” he said as he slit his wrist with a fingernail and held it to the dead man’s mouth.
“No!” I shouted. “No you don’t! That’s not a fix to any of this.”
“Be quiet, Jones. We will need time now before he awakens. We must hold off until then.”
“I only got a few rounds for this here piece, I can’t hold off that many of em. We won’t last a minute after they start coming in here.”
“Then we will be on the roof of this establishment. We need time, we can keep them at bay from there for long enough,” he said as he took the body and threw it over his shoulder.
He turned to the woman, nodded his head, and the both of them started heading upstairs. But I wasn’t.
“Abacus, what are you doing?” The Vampire asked stopping in the hallway upstairs.
“Oh, I got a mind to buy you a few, so get going already.” I said as I walked behind the bar again.
The Vampire suddenly seemed reluctant to leave me behind, or alone. “Do not die, Abacus Jones. And do not run.”
“Oh, I ain’t running.” I said as I pulled the cork from another bottle of whiskey. “I got a idea.”
The Vampire eyed me suspiciously a bit then he and the lady went through a door upstairs and likely to the roof from an opened window. I watched the swinging doors. The slow moving heard of people were right at the steps now and still heading in. I figured it was time to start buying time. I took one last swig of whiskey before I started pulling my trigger.
When I came upstairs it was with a number of them weird townsfolk at my heels. I dashed through a room and then out the window where I found a ladder that I could take up to the roof. The Vampire was there along with his new brethren who was just starting to stir.
“He ready to go yet?” I asked impatiently.
“Almost, Jones. You made quite the noise down there? Have you been harmed?” He asked with almost a slight smile.
“No, I’m fine. They ripped up my clothes a bit whenever they could get a hold of me. They’re tough, something ain’t quite right with em. They’re human, but they ain’t. It’s damned strange.”
“How many of them did you kill?”
“Kill?” I said sounding stumped. “Why I ain’t killed a one of em.”
“I heard your gun go off several times, surely you hit some of them.”
“No, no I don’t think I did.”
“Are you really so incapable?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that. But I have been drinking a bit. Probably threw off my aim.”
“Well it sounds like you made a mess of the place then, but no matter, our piano man is ready I think.”
“Well good, cuz them folks down below didn’t really want to talk much. And that piano man weren’t tellin no tale about thatMarshall. He really wanted his hat back. So, piano man, you ready to play?”
The man looked at me with blood red eyes, “How did I get up here? Why do I feel so hungry?”
“Uh,” I began, “you took a tumble off that bench of yours and your friends happened to show up while you was out. So we gotta get you back down to the piano.”
“They’re here?” He said before mumbling “I could really use a sandwich.”
“We’ll get you fed in a few fella, but right now you need to play that piano of yours.”
“But they’re here already! How can I…you don’t understand, they’re here for me! I can’t go down there! God I’m hungry.”
“Don’t you worry about them, we’ll get you to that piano, you just need to play.”
“NO!” He shouted in finality. “You don’t understand! It’s over! They’re in the bar! I was trying to keep them out of the bar!”
I had the feeling that piano man knew more than he had let on before the Vampire had gone and killed him. So I said as much, leaving out the latter of course.
“That ain’t the story you was feeding us downstairs. I think it best you spill before I put a bullet in you.” I bluffed.
“Okay, okay!” He said holding his hands in the air. “It doesn’t matter anymore anyway. They’re already here. Without the music to lull them, they’ll find it soon enough. You two smell terrible by the way. What’s that other smell?”
“Get on with it already! We ain’t got time if what you’re saying is true!” I shouted.
“Okay, it’s the skull. I hid it in the bar, to keep it away from all of them. They’re trying to bring him back you see?”
“I don’t understand a thing of it. Tell us what you’re babbling about, and quick, will ya?!”
“Apocitus! Or at least that’s what they’re calling him. A demon of sorts, but not of Hell, he’s of this plane, of this land. You see, our town, it’s been rich in gold for years now. So we were a mining town. And each of us here that gone out a mining has come back with gold, so most of us are pretty well off.
“So, the town was mining, and someone found a bone, something that looked human, but bigger. So the town set to mining around the same spot, finding more bones everyday, buried in rock and dirt. Some deeper than others. Now, not one of the bones was set next to another, they were all close, but not together. So, someone had to bury it that way, right?
“The miners found new pieces of bone to add to the skeleton that was quickly taking shape. But the people were changing. Most of them wouldn’t come back to town anymore. They didn’t eat, they didn’t sleep, they just stayed out there. In the days they would dig, in the night, they would sit around the skeleton, sort of in a trance, just staring at it on their knees. I don’t even know if they know that they were doing it.
“More pieces were found each day as more of the town went out to start digging, never to return. Soon enough, all the townsfolk was out there, and not a one of them was panning for gold. Myself included. But I never laid a hand on that thing. It wasn’t right, I knew that from the start, but I couldn’t help but wonder what it was. I mean, it looked human. I had to see what it would become.
“Each new piece that was added would drive the people further and further away from the townsfolk I’d come to know. In the day, they would dig, and dig. Their hands scraped and bleeding, but they didn’t care. They would just keep digging. But what I noticed was that it had grown very quiet. Everyone had stopped talking. Stopped eating. Stopped sleeping. And with each new bone found and placed on the great skeleton, the people would change. Where once they sat around the meeger frame at night, now they had lit fires, great flames rising into the nights sky, and they danced, and chanted. I am ashamed to admit, that out there, it was the only place I could sleep anymore. The town was dead. No one remained there. But at night, in those hills, on hard rock, the people chanted, and I found I could sleep.
“But the chants became repetitive, annoying. Constantly saying Apocitus, Apocitus in low droning voices. All night long, that’s all that I heard. I had found my end to this madness. I could not take it anymore, and on that last day, as I dug into the soft dirt, far away from those vacant souls, I found bone. Even now, I cannot say why I found myself digging there, I just was. As I dug deeper I could see that what I found was not human. It was a horn, not a cattle or a mountain goat’s, though it appeared much the same, it was too large to be animal. And as I dug further, I pulled from the ground a skull, human in look, but with horns coming from it’s skull, curling around to the base of it’s jawbone.
“I handled it with my gloves, why would I do anything else, but as I turned it over, my eyes fell into those dark holes where it’s eyes once must have been, and suddenly I was no longer in the dry hot desert grounds. I was in a field, grass at my fingers, gray and dying, it cracked as I touched it. I looked to the sky where all was dark clouds, an air of ash floating all around. In the distance I saw a city burning, and I heard the screams. Endless screams. As if people were in the flames, dying, but never dying.
“And then I saw him. The great black form, a man, but larger, horns coming from his head to the base of his jaw. Black skin like cracking dirt, and beneath, a pulsating red, like flames beneath his skin. He could see me, those burning eyes of his as piercing as any knife, I could feel it tearing me apart from my belly to my throat. Like someone had started a fire within me. I fell to my knees, and I tried to scream. But I could not hear myself, all I heard was that thing laughing. As if screaming was laughing.
“Finally, I awoke back in the sands and dirt. I had never loved this dry land, not until that moment. I knew what I had to do. I took the head, I put it in my cart, and I wheeled it back to town. I would not let them complete their work. Not after what I saw. I moved the piano to the wall by the fireplace, put the skull in the fireplace, and blocked it in with the piano. I thought the people would never know. I thought they would just keep digging. But that night, they came back to town, for the first time.
“The skull. It must have called out to them somehow. I don’t know how, but somehow. I accepted my fate. There was one shotgun in the bar, I could not kill them all, so I sat and I played piano. I can’t say why, but they would not come into the bar. They would all stand outside, as long as the moon shone, and just sort of sway in a trance as I played.
“Maybe my playing got in the way of whatever that damned skull was saying to all of them. All that I knew was that I could never leave here. I had to be here at night. To keep them away from that skull. I had to stay here. God, something smells delicious.”
His eyes were red, as red as if blood had been poured in them. I knew he couldn’t be smelling the Vampire’s blood, and my own couldn’t have smelt too appetizing, so I figured the townsfolk below was the one’s he was sniffin. I was wrong.
His eyes shot past me and fell on the girl. He was on his feet and leaping toward her before I’d had a chance to respond. But the Vampire was quicker than him, stronger, probably on accounta drinking his blood.
“You will not touch this girl!” The vampire hissed.
“What do you mean? What just happened? How’d I get up so fast?! Oh God!” He shouted looking down at his shirt. “WHO’S BLOOD IS THIS?!”
“That is yours, my brother. I have given you a gift.” The Vampire said baring his teeth at the man.
“Oh, God! A Vampire! But you’re not real!” The man said struggling in the strong grip around him.
“Then neither are you. I have made you into one of my kind. Be thankful.”
“Thankful? I’m so hungry, I think I’m dying. Did I try and bite into that girl?”
“You are starving, as we all are when we first awaken, holding on to our old life. You are free. Free from all that you had ever known now.”
“Except for playing that piano. Ain’t you gonna tell him that’s the only reason he’s still breathing after you bit a hole into his neck?” I said.
“There’s a hole in my neck?” He said reaching up to just feel the opened wound. “Well ain’t that something.”
“Come on, we got no time for this. Get down there and play that piano.”
“But it’s too late, Apocitus calls to them. They are already inside. I can smell them, I think. That is disturbing. We are too late.”
“No we ain’t. They ain’t found it yet or I’d guess the skies would be turning black or something, if that’s how this is supposed to work. So we’ve still got time!”
“But I’m a vampire now, right? So why should I care about any of this anymore?”
“Because we need to feed.” The Vampire hissed in his ear again. “If this Apocitus is as you saw, then it must not come to live.”
“Okay then, get that piano man in there Vampire. Get him to that piano of his.”
“Do not order me around, Abacus. I will do as I please.”
I could tell that the Vampire said something quietly to his new creation, something that didn’t set right with him by the look on his face. But he must have agreed because the Vampire let go of him and they’d seemed to come to some sort of agreement.
“Now, listen to me, Abacus Jones. We will go down the way we came. It is for you to get to the front, and pull them outside again. Do you understand me? You are to get their empty husks to turn their attentions to you.”
“Not that I think that’s a good idea or nothing, but how do you figure I’m gonna do that? Especially if some damned skull is calling to em?”
“You are soulless as well, aren’t you? Figure it out.”
I would have spit back, but there wasn’t time, so I growled, adjusted my belt and walked over to the side of the building and jumped. Two stories ain’t much, but it still hurt. I got to my feet, found my hat and got it back on my head, then limped a bit to the front side of the bar. Most of the folk was all inside now save for a few still heading in. I could hear them moving things around in there, sliding their feet in broken glass and such. From the look of it, they hadn’t found the skull yet.
I’ve done a lot of things in my life, stupid or otherwise. Not all of it I’m proud of, but all of it comes in useful now and again. I went to hootin and hollering, but nothing was grabbing their attentions. I tried at pulling one of them away from their path, but he just got back in line and headed in. Seemed they didn’t want nothing to do with me, and I didn’t see the owner of my hat anywhere, so I used some of my past experience, and headed on in. Once in I still wasn’t grabbing anyone’s attentions, so I set about punching a few of em. I’d knock down one, then another, and them being on the ground would just cause others to trip over them. Seemed that time as a pit fighter was finally paying off.
I’d hit a few more on top of the pile and then keep at it. I cleared a small spot for myself, and then I noticed that finally, their attentions were on me, but then I noticed the piano wasn’t where I’d left it. They had the skull. We were already too late. They started coming for me now, but luckily I’d already put up a body barrier between me and most of them. I booted some to the face to keep em down. I could see just past my circle, that they formed another circle, and a feller was putting that odd skull in the middle.
The Vampires appeared up in the hallway upstairs, and I could see the piano man fall to his knees as soon as he saw that skull.
“It’s too late!” He shouted. “I told you it was too late!”
“The sky ain’t black yet,” I said between punches “you still got time you idiot!”
The Vampire pulled him back on his feet and just about threw him down the stairs to his piano. He sat down, and soon enough started playing, and sure enough, they all stopped moving. They just sort of started swaying in their spot, as if they’d fallen asleep standing up.
“That a boy.” I said trying to catch my breath. “Just keep playing.”
He peeked over his shoulder, and I could see him smile when he saw that everyone had stopped moving. It wasn’t the best song I ever heard, but if it kept a whole town of people off me for a change, it was going to be my favorite song by tomorrow.
“Good work, Abacus Jones.” Said a voice from behind me.
I took a wild swing as I spun around, but my fist was caught by a strong hand, the Vampire’s. How he got behind me without my paying attention, I can’t say, but I made a point from then on never to let it happen again.
“Yeah, I reckon I made a right good show of it. Now, let’s you and me get on out of here.”
“What of the skull though. We cannot leave it here.”
“No, we can’t. But I’ve got an idea about that. I’ll tell you about it outside.”
We made our way through the bodies all standing in our way. Seemed that while I’d been fighting all of em had made it inside. Which as far as I was concerned, was for the best. We could still hear the piano as we stopped, and the Vampire turned to me.
“Your idea, what is it?”
“Well, first thing’s first,” I said as I pulled a tattered cigarette from inside my vest and lit it up. “We should get the girl down from the roof.”
“She is already down, Abacus Jones, she is behind you.”
I spun around and sure enough there she was, a frightful beauty. It wasn’t often a lady got the drop on me. Well, it happened, sometimes. Of course now I was really irritated that the both of them had gotten behind me without me noticing. I took a couple of draws from the cigarette.
“Your plan, Jones. We have little time, a vampire’s first hunger cannot be satiated for long.”
“Yeah, I’m aware of that. In fact,” I said as I drew in another take on the cigarette before tossing it with a flick behind me. “I’ve already figured on all of our problems.”
The Vampire seemed confused, but I saw his eyes go wide as the light of a fire began dancing on his pale face. His fists were around my shirt’s collar faster than I could have thought. I stared down into those eyes of his, the blood lust having turned them a deep red. He would have bit me if he didn’t need me. Of course, I already knew he wouldn’t do that.
“What have you done?!”
I struggled a bit with my feet dangling there in the air and my shirt sort of pressing against my throat where I already had a hanging scar. It brought back a memory I didn’t much care to recall. “Exactly…what I planned—“
He tossed me aside like a sack of potatoes. I hit the ground hard on my back, knocking the wind out a me. He was over me as soon as I opened my eyes again, gripping my collar hard as he pulled me up to his face, that old breath of his nearly choking as bad as the near strangling.
“You would burn one of mine while I stand here?! I should drain you and send you back to your master!”
“You didn’t actually think I’d let you get away with what you were up to, did you? Making a new brother? Giving him the entire town of people to drink, to make an entire town ofVampires? I ain’t that big an idiot. I know your kind too well. While you was upstairs I doused the place in every drop of alcohol that place had left and made sure there was enough out front to get into the place.”
From the corner of my eye, I could see the flames rising inside the bar. The piano had stopped playing, and I could hear the sound of one person screaming, only one. So I figured it must be the vampire.
“He screams! My brother, my blood! He screams as he burns!” He was shaking as he spoke. “And the people, you would let them burn?”
“They ain’t people anymore. I’ve seen what happened to them before. That Apocitus they was worshipping, he’s a soul eater. Them people’s souls were gone, and they weren’t coming back. Each of them’s souls was devoured by the bones of that thing. Notice how they ain’t even screaming. Their’s was only about getting their God put back together. I was setting them free.”
“Free? I would have given them new life! And they would have been saved from that trance. They would have hidden those bones, and this town would forever protect that secret.”
“And you wouldn’t be alone anymore, would you?” Seemed I’d caught his tongue with that. “That’s what this is really about isn’t it? Wanna tell me what happened to your clan, Vampire?”
He shoved me down against the ground and let go. He rose to his feet and looked to the bar that was now burning high with flames. The screaming had stopped, and the smell of something far too familiar drifted through the heated air. Something I couldn’t place, but it was damned comforting.
“You have made me your enemy, Abacus Jones. When we are at our journey’s end, I would remember it well to not turn your back on me. I would prefer to see your eyes as I take your life.”
“I don’t plan on dying, Vampire. And I wasn’t aware we was ever anything else other than enemies. In case you forgot, I hunt your kind. That ain’t gonna change, les I want it to.”
“Then we are in agreement, Jones. One such as I would never fear one such as you.” He turned to walk off, but I wasn’t done with him yet.
“Vampire, I gotta ask you one thing. The girl. With all them people around, why did her blood catch the other vampire’s hunger so well? Is it as sweet to you? What’s so different about her blood than anyone else’s?”
“You mean like your blood?”
“You know what I mean, don’t try and turn this around. What is she?”
“She is none of your concern.” He said as he walked over to her and told her that he needed to be bandaged again. She had her eyes on me, and then went off to follow him.
I just lay there with the sound of the fire crackling in my ears. The smoke spilled out in the sky and over the land. I could have fallen asleep, it had been a long night already, but there was a sound that was growing louder, fading far into the sky. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. As if laughing was screaming. I sat up, and looked to the burning bar. Something was moving inside. And it wasn’t human.
To Be Continued…