November, 2017

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Issue #98

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

The Barefoot Odyssey
by James Burke
Kit Carson, the famous mountain man, answers the call to arms as the Mexican-American War breaks out on the frontier. But after a bloody battle leaves a hundred American soldiers surrounded, Carson must trek across an unforgiving wilderness alone, unarmed, and barefoot to find them help.

* * *

The Estep Incident
by Michael Bellman
Ezra knew gold when he saw it, and so did Jim and Ben. He worked years to accumulate his fortune while the brothers schemed how to get it. Perhaps there could be an unfortunate accident on the Estep Trail this year . . .

* * *

Sourdough's Cabin
by A. Elizabeth Herting
Conditions on Santa Fe peaks can turn on a dime, making every step an epic battle for survival. Two kindred souls are brought together by extraordinary circumstances, joined in their love for the mountain and their fight against the elements. Who will win this age old battle—man or mountain?

* * *

What's Grey and What's Gold
by Ian Thompsett
Follow a young man struggling with what is good as he leaves home with a bounty hunter, hoping to make money that will allow him to care for his aging mother.

* * *

The Tunnel of Blood
by Dave Barr
Engine No. 66 was trapped inside a mountain tunnel by an avalanche. Mike Murdock, the engineer, thought the passengers and crew would be safe until the railroad could dig them out. But an ancient evil bumming a ride got hungry . . .

* * *

Last Words of Barney Wiggins
by Lawrence E. Cox
One thing you could say about old Marshal Maher–he gets things done. One thing you could say about young Barney Wiggins–if he can't find trouble, trouble will find him. On this day trouble was about to meet with an old hand at getting things done.

* * *

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All the Tales

The Tunnel of Blood
by Dave Barr

The shrill blast of the whistle cut through the clear Colorado air as No. 66 towed its four cars up the snow-clad Gold Pass to the tunnel near the mountain's peak. Engineer Mike Murdock looked backwards and checked his train, the passenger, baggage, and freight cars were trundling along smoothly, with the red caboose bringing up the rear. Looking forward presented Murdock with more of a challenge though, the icy March wind made looking passed No. 66's curving snowplow difficult at best. Not being able to see the track made the engineer uneasy, but he had driven over this route many times, and thought he knew where to watch for danger, "A little more coal if you please, Joe," he shouted to his fireman.

"Shore, Mike," Joe White, the negro fireman, interrupted his current spiritual long enough to spread fuel across the boiler grate.

"We're making good time, Mike," conductor, Albert Krause, said as he checked his watch from the comfort of an old kitchen chair they kept in the tender.

The engineer nodded absently as he tried to check the rails again, looking for anything out of the ordinary, "Where's Billy?" He asked suddenly.

"Started back across the car tops a moment ago," the conductor answered.

"Hell of a job," Joe muttered as he raked the glowing embers.

"But necessary," Mike grinned, "We couldn't slow down on the grades without someone setting the brakes on the cars."

"Still, that's just crazy, running back and forth on top of a moving train," the fireman said, "He could slip, or trip over a roof vent  . . . " the fireman shivered, and left the rest of the sentence unsaid.

"I have to agree with Joe," Albert joined in, "I spoke to the man about jumping from car-to-car. Told him to be more careful, and you know what he said?"

Mike grinned, "He told you he WAS being careful," the engineer checked a pressure gauge, "I talked to him myself."

"Tunnel comin' up Mike," Joe pointed out.

"Yeah," Mike frowned at the gaping mouth of the curving tunnel, "I hate this approach, you can't see into the tunnel until the last minute," the engineer's feeling of unease was worse than ever now. Murdock winced as he spotted the brakeman running across the car tops. No doubt the man wanted to be back at the front of the train as they headed downhill. The wind abated for a moment, and Mike looked into the tunnel, instantly realizing what was bothering him; there was no light at the western end.

"AVALANCHE!" the engineer shouted, and hit the engine's brake lever. No.66 suddenly changed from a safe vehicle of transportation into 33 tons of metal sliding into a granite-walled tomb. Just as the rear of the caboose entered the tunnel the plow hit the wall of ice on the opposite end. The shock of the impact caused another cascade of snow down Gold mountain that covered the eastern entrance of the tunnel as well. No.66 and everyone on her were buried alive.

Of the three men in the engine's cab only the engineer had a chance to brace for the crash. Now Murdock relaxed, and looked around in the semi-darkness, the fireman was picking himself up off the floor, but the conductor was stretched out in the tender, stunned, with a bleeding head wound.

"Joe, can you see to Albert? I need to check the train and the passengers!" Mike shouted as he jumped down onto the gravel ballast of the tracks. Despite the semi-darkness the engineer could tell that No. 66 had stayed on the rails. That was a relief, if an engine derailed you need a crane to right matters, but if an engine derailed inside a tunnel, you needed to move a mountain before you could bring in the crane  . . . 

Murdock's eyes were still adjusting to the dimness when he tripped over the prostrate form of his brakeman lying upside down in the snow. The crash's impact had launched the man over the engine, and into the wall of ice blocking the tunnel. Billy Williams had somehow missed the snowplow which was why he was still alive, but the man was unconscious and probably hurt. Mike eased Billy into a more comfortable position before hurrying back toward the passenger car, "Joe! I found Billy out here in the snow! He's alive but hurt! Wait till I get back to move him!" He called as he trotted by the cab.

"OK Mike," Joe answered, "I'm seeing to Albert!"

* * *

I am awakened by a severe jolt. Realizing my haven is breached I sit up, and the earth of my homeland spills out onto the floor. Memory returns, and I recall how I planned this journey, patterning my coffins after those designed by the Master. I sense humans nearby, and the hunger makes itself felt; an ache that tells me it has been ages since I have tasted fresh blood. I transform into bat shape, and escape through a roof vent.

After a quick survey, I conclude that the train is trapped in a tunnel. Outside I sense the sun is shining on these walls of granite, but its hateful light will not penetrate here. I may act with impunity, and my search for sustenance is rewarded. I feel the presence of a healthy male in the car just ahead of my own. He is alone, and that suits my needs perfectly. I enter through another vent and transform into human shape. The place is in disarray, and my victim is just standing up as I creep up behind him.

I can hardly control myself as I sense his rich pulsing blood, and reach out eagerly to grab him. He turns at my touch, and tries to scream, but I slap him, and the blow sends the fool crashing into the rear wall where he collapses in a heap. I have forgotten how fragile a human is, not that I care if I hurt this one, but my need is great, and he must be alive when I drain him. I kneel beside his body and began to dine, losing myself in an orgy of bloodlust.

* * *

As Murdock trotted up to the passenger car he noticed nothing out of ordinary with both the baggage and freight cars, but most of the caboose was still hidden around the curve in the tunnel. The engineer had hoped they could back out of here, but the absence of outside light wasn't a good sign. As Mike swung up on the passenger car's steps he became aware of a low moaning, and assumed one of the passengers was hurt.

When Murdock entered the passenger car he was greeted by a scene of dimly lit confusion. People were picking themselves up, and the place was littered with personal articles that had been tossed by the crash. He saw no serious injuries though, and tried to sound reassuring as he spoke to the five men and one woman, "Folks," he began, "I regret to inform you that the line is currently blocked. I'm not sure how serious the problem is, or if there is any damage to the train that would keep us here. Please be patient while I see what is what, and I'll be getting back to you shortly. Oh, and please refrain from using the comfort station while the train is stopped," he turned to leave, but the passengers started asking questions.

"Are we de-railed?" a chubby man with a sample case asked.

"Nope," a prisoner in handcuffs laughed. "You'd have felt the wheels jump the tracks."

"Shud-up ew," snarled his guard, an aging Marshal who had received a bloody nose from crashing into the carriage wall.

"So, we're trapped?" the young woman asked as she struggled up from the floor with a pile of papers that had spilled.

"I don't know yet," Mike lied.

"What's making that moaning noise?" A man dressed as a rancher asked.

"I'm on my way to check that now," Mike said as he turned to leave.

"I'll go with you," the rancher said.

"As will I," said a cadaverously thin man dressed as a gambler, "Anything is better than sitting here in the dark." He stood, and suddenly began coughing. The young woman looked at the gambler worriedly, "Nothing to be concerned about Miss," the thin man smiled as he wiped his mouth, "Just a touch of soot in my lungs," he said as the three men exited the car.

"Sounds tubercular to me," grumbled the chubby salesman.

"Then you won't die fat," the prisoner chuckled. "Although I won't give odds on any of our chances right now," he smirked.

"I tawd I told ew to shud-up?" The Marshal growled as he wiped more blood from his nose.

"C'mon Marshal," the prisoner said. "Use your head. Is the train moving? Are they trying to get out? Why is the engineer back here talking to us instead of the conductor?" He laughed, "We're stuck here!"

"You can't be serious!" the young woman said, as she tried to look out the window, but her breath merely frosted the glass.

"By prisoner es bery knowledgeable aboud drains Miss," the Marshal replied. "He's aboud to begin a dwendy year sendence for exploiding dat knowledge."

The salesman looked at the prisoner. "He's a train robber?"

"Was," the Marshal corrected, and finally got the bleeding to stop.

"I prefer to think of my current circumstances as a sidetrack on my path to success," the chained man smiled.

"Whatever," the Marshal growled as he dabbed at his nose some more. "Now SHUT-UP!"

Outside the three men walked carefully in the loose ballast as they made their way toward the baggage car. The moaning definitely was coming from inside, and the engineer looked at his companions, "There's a clerk in there, he must be hurt," he said. "Help me up and I'll unlock the padlock on the door," the gambler and rancher lifted the engineer up enough for him unlock, and roll back the door revealing a dark jumbled interior.

"Gary?" The engineer called out. "Where are you?" There was a flutter of wings and a large bat sailed out the open door. "What the hell?" the engineer cried as he ducked. The three men climbed inside the car and looked around. Most of the loose items in the car were now piled against the front wall.

"Here's a lamp . . . with some oil . . . still in it," the Gambler said between coughs. The rancher produced a match and struck a light.

* * *

AGH! That light is blinding! Those fools almost injured me! For a moment, I consider returning to human form, and punishing these brainless lumps like the cattle they are, but then I remember I am vulnerable to their weapons in human shape. Not that these weaklings have any clue that I am here. I restrain my anger, remembering that the Master always said that the less the humans suspect the better it is for us. I watch, and reflect that humans seem to have changed since I was last active. They didn't use to have the ability to create light so quickly. I wonder what else has changed, and listen in as they converse, but whatever language they are speaking, it isn't good German. There are some words I understand, but most of it is gibberish. That could pose a problem . . . 

* * *

They found the clerk towards the back of the car. His shirt had been shredded and there was blood oozing from several cuts around his throat. The man was unconscious and there was a large bruise forming on the side of his face.

Mike knelt beside the injured man and examined his wounds. "Must have hit the wall in the crash," he said.

The rancher looked around. "How come he's back here instead of up front with the rest of the loose stuff?"

The gambler held the lamp over the clerk and coughed. "It looks . . . like he was in a fight with a mountain lion . . . see how his shirt is shredded?"

"I've never seen injuries like that before," Mike said. "Can you two get him up to the engine where it's warmer, while I check the rest of the train? Then ask the fireman and the conductor to meet me in the passenger car." The two men nodded, and turned their attention to the injured man.

* * *

Damn them! They are taking my food! How can I ease this bloodlust if they keep interfering with my meal? If the victim awakes, and tells what he has seen the others will be forewarned. I must finish him quickly, but my powers are still weak from my long sleep. So, I'll follow, and watch for an opening to finish my feast.

* * *

Mike Murdock stood staring at the wall of snow that had engulfed the rear of the train; they were trapped, alright. The engineer shivered from the cold and climbed inside the caboose. Looking for anything that might be of use, he gathered up several lanterns, an axe, and a very bright carbide emergency lamp before heading back to the passenger car to spread the news.

Ten minutes later he was concluding his assessment of their problems. "So that's it folks," Murdock explained, "we're stuck here until someone can dig us out."

"We should have picked up the mail at Gillytown by now," the conductor said, as he held some ice to his head. "They'll realize something's up. If the telegraph isn't out they can check with Denver and see if we're on time."

"We're a long way from Denver," the fireman pointed out.

"And the nearest work train is in Glenwood Springs," Mike said. "We also have no idea how much snow is between us and them."

"So, what do we do?" The salesman butted in. "I have appointments in Grand Junction."

"You better re-schedule," the prisoner laughed.

"Are we going to starve?" the young woman asked suddenly.

"No," Mike answered as he held up a clipboard, "this is our manifest for the freight car." He thumbed through the papers. "We got a portable sawmill, boxes of clothes, four crates of something labeled as 'Miners Earth' whatever that is, and crates of canned foods." The engineer looked around. "It'll be cold and smelly in here, but we won't starve."

"We won't freeze either," Joe piped up. "There's still over half a tender of coal to keep us warm, and I can melt snow for us to drink."

The gambler snickered. "Only thing water's good for is washing," he wheezed.

"Now, sir," the young woman said, "I would think a man in your condition would pay more attention to his health—" she would have continued to lecture, but the engineer interrupted.

"Since we are going to be in pretty close quarters for the foreseeable future, I think it would be good to introduce ourselves. I'm Mike Murdock, engineer. This is Albert Krause, your conductor, and Joe White, the fireman. The two injured crew members are Billy Williams, brakeman, and Gary Perot, clerk."

"Pete Barrow, rancher."

"Nathan Banks, gentleman of leisure," the gambler said, with a little bow and a cough.

"Axel Roseman, purveyor of fine kitchen appliances," the salesman said with a touch of a German accent.

"Amelia Roamer," the lady paused before adding, "I'm a writer."

"Marshal Ed Teagarten," the lawman said, "and this . . . is Mr. John Curry."

The shackled man smiled as the others recognized the name of a notorious train robber. "It's nice to be noticed," he said.

"I told you to shut-up," the Marshal barked.

"Yet I keep talking. One of us isn't listening, Marshal." Curry laughed.

"Well, I guess the next order of business is to open that box car," the engineer said quickly. "I don't have the key for that padlock so I guess we'll have to break in."

Everyone turned and looked at John Curry who smiled, and held up his manacled hands. "I'd love to help but I'm tied up right now."

* * *

Excellent! They are trooping off on some errand leaving the two injured males stretched out on the floor of the engine. The black man shoveled coal into the boiler before he left, and the heat and light are extremely vexing, but I must finish the meal I started. I can't go on to the next throat before the last one is fully drained; there are cosmic rules about such things, after all.

* * *

The padlock on the box car was as big as a man's fist, but the prisoner popped it open quickly using Amelia's hair pins. "Those big ones are usually pretty easy to open," Curry grinned as he handed the pins back to the young woman. "Will I be up on further charges now, Marshal?" he asked innocently.

Marshal Teagarten glowered at his prisoner. "Under the circumstances I'd say you're safe for now." The Marshal held up the manacles. "Let's put these on, and get you back in the passenger car where I can keep an eye on you." Curry shrugged and held out his hands.

"Marshal," Amelia asked, "Is that really necessary? It's not like he can run off."

"I'm responsible for getting him to the territorial prison in Mesa Verde, Miss Roamer," the Marshal said as they walked off. "I don't intend to let him get away."

"I admire your dedication, Marshal," the rancher said. He and the engineer rolled back the freight car's door, and climbed into the dark interior where they were confronted with a mess. "Apparently the cargo came loose," Mr. Barrow said, scuffing his foot in the loam covering the floor. "Where the hell did all this dirt come from?"

"One of those crates of Miners Earth is broken open," said the engineer as he held up a lantern to check packing labels. "Here's a crate of canned fruit, and another with what looks like smoked hams! Folks, we've hit the jackpot!"

"Let's get the food up to the passenger car," Pete said. "Mr. Banks, could you and Mr. Roseman carry some of this stuff while we look around some more?"

"Certainly." The gambler grabbed a box, and began coughing.

Amelia relieved Mr. Banks of the load, "I'll take it," she said sharply, and walked away before he could stop her.

Meanwhile, as the Marshal and the prisoner were approaching the passenger car, John Curry murmured to his escort, "Make you a bet, Marshal."

"On what?" the lawman asked.

"Five thousand dollars to your one that I get away when we get out of here," Curry answered.

"I'd have to let you go for that to happen."

"Well, you've already said I'm pretty good at escapes," Curry smiled, "and you'd win five thousand dollars. Just think about it."

"I doubt I will," the Marshal said.

* * *

Oh, that was delicious! I enjoyed the meal, and reduced the chances of my discovery to zero. But in my haste to avoid the light and heat of the engine I made a mess of my food by dragging it onto the roadbed. I look down at the wreck of a man, and smile as I wipe my mouth. My bloodlust is still strong, and I am tempted to feed on the other injured man, but I can hear the rest of the herd approaching, so I transform, and fly into the welcoming darkness. Usually after a large meal I like to rest, but these new experiences are so interesting I don't feel like stretching out in my grave just yet. I resolve to wait a bit, and see what the herd does when they discover the death of the one they called a 'clerk.'

* * *

The first person back to the engine was Joe White. The fireman was pleased they had found food, and eager to share the news with the injured men. But when Joe climbed up into No. 66's cab he was sickened by what he found. Gary, the clerk, was lying in the gravel on the far side of the engine. The clerk was very dead, and the side of No. 66 was spattered with his blood. Billy, the brakeman, was curled up on the floor, shivering like he had the ague.

"What happened?" Mike asked when he arrived. "How'd Gary get out there?"

"Perhaps he woke up and didn't know where he was," the rancher replied. "He stood up, and fell out of the cab."

"And right into a buzz saw, apparently," the prisoner spoke up as he toed the body with his foot.

"Stop that," the Marshal said, and poked Curry. "Help pick that man up so we can cover him in snow. Why don't you try and show some respect for a change?"

"He's light as a feather," Joe said as they lifted the clerk.

"The dead show no respect for the living." Mr. Roseman sounded frightened as he helped move the body away from the engine.

"See something unusual?" the prisoner asked.

Roseman acted embarrassed. "No. Nothing." The man looked around nervously as a large bat flew past.

"There seem to be a lot of bats in this tunnel," the rancher pointed out as they dug a hole in the snow. "Has anyone else noticed?"

"Tunnel's a natural place for bats," Joe pointed out.

"I hate them," Amelia said suddenly. "There's something about the way they flit around that makes my skin crawl."

"They're just hunting for food, my dear," the gambler said.

"Sir," Amelia said stiffly, "I am NOT your dear."

"Bats are a harbinger of evil," Roseman said nervously. "We should make peace with God."

"Take it easy, Mr. Roseman," Mike said. "We'll be out of here soon. The railroad will send help."

"I hope you're right, Mr. Murdock," the portly salesman said.

* * *

So, even after the first death, they suspect nothing. How quaint. If only I could understand more of their language. True, it would be like hearing dogs talk, but it would make things more interesting for me as I instill the proper fear in them. And some of them taste fear already. Just look at how the female reacted when I flew past. That was amusing. I think I'll rest a bit now. But first, a little treat for the long-limbed cow  . . . 

* * *

After packing the clerk's body in snow, the survivors walked back toward the passenger car in the chilly semi-darkness. The large bat swooped down among them. The animal was perhaps the size of a rat, with wings almost a foot across, and it looped around Amelia, causing the woman to shriek and protect her face.

Nathan Banks, the gambler, stretched a protective arm around her. "There, there, missy, it's gone now."

"Oh, I hate those horrid things!" Amelia cried.

"Strange how it did that," the rancher said.

"Yes, strange indeed," Mr. Roseman replied as he turned up his coat collar.

As they passed the engine a weak voice called to them. The brakeman had managed to pull himself over to the steps. "Mike!" he pleaded. "Don't leave me alone, Mike! She'll come back!"

The engineer was mystified, but tried to calm his crewmate. "Billy, you had a bad dream. We're in a fix here, but we got food, and help'll come soon."

Billy shook his head weakly, "No! Whatever killed Gary was real! And she'll come back!"

"C'mon Mike," Albert murmured from behind the engineer. "He's delirious . . . nothing we can do."

Mike shrugged off Albert's urging. "She?" he asked.

"A woman . . . dressed in white rags . . . she tossed Gary onto the roadbed . . . and bit his neck," the injured man said.

"What then, Billy?" Mike asked. He could feel Albert standing behind him, suddenly interested in what the brakeman was saying.

"She thought I was asleep . . . she looked at me, and smiled as she licked blood off her lips!" The terrified man passed out.

Mike turned to Albert. "Stay with him. I'll send Joe back to relieve you after we eat."

"And then what?" the conductor asked.

"And then we're gonna search this train," the engineer replied grimly.

* * *

Ahhh! The real pleasure of a good meal is often found after it is complete. I enjoy the feeling of fullness as I draw strength from the soil of my grave. These humans are fat with red blood, and I can hardly wait to reach Glenwood Springs. The place is supposed to be a booming mining town, and yet it is secluded enough to keep human interference at a minimum while I lay out the locations of my new vaults. Who knows? Perhaps there will be enough food material there for me to create a lackey or two of my own, just as Master Dracula created me.

* * *

The meal in the passenger car was a gloomy one. People sat on the hard-wooden benches munching pieces of ham, and whatever was in the can they had opened. After they had listened to the engineer's conversation with the injured brakeman everyone studiously avoided looking at the only woman in the car.

"Are you insinuating that I killed that man?" Amelia asked huffily.

"Nothing of the sort," Mike said easily. "You were with us all of the time."

"Small comfort there," the young woman replied as she stabbed a peach from the can in her lap.

"Miss, nothing could be further from our minds," the gambler said with a wheeze.

"So, somebody else is on the train?" the rancher asked.

"That's what it sounds like," Mike said.

"Then we need to start a search," the Marshal stood up.

"I will not search," Axel Roseman spoke up.

Everyone looked at the salesman. "Why not, Mr. Roseman?" Mike asked.

"Because you might find what you're looking for," Curry suddenly piped up.

"What's that mean?" the Marshal said.

The prisoner pointed his shackled hands at the salesman. "Look at him. It's freezing in here, but he's sweating. He knows something but doesn't want to tell us."

"I think it's time to stop fooling around," Joe White suddenly said. "We should start digging out of here. The sooner we're away from this tunnel the better." He crossed his huge arms as if he was daring someone to contradict him.

Mike looked at his fireman in surprise. Joe was usually much more reserved, "That's not a bad idea, Joe," he replied before turning to the Marshal. "Do you think we could borrow your prisoner to help with the digging?"

The Marshal looked hard at Mr. Curry, "I'd rather he didn't get out of those irons, he's as slippery as an eel."

The rancher stood up. "How about if I take Mr. Curry with me, and search the interiors of the cars? That way he will be inside a train car, inside a tunnel, which is inside a mountain. I can hardly see how he could escape from all that," the man smiled.

"Oh, I'd find a way," Curry laughed, "Just ask the Marshal."

The lawman seemed to be struggling with some thought before pulling his keys from his pocket, "Alright Curry, against my better judgment I'm placing you on parole for the duration of this emergency. You may assist Mr. Barrow with the search."

For once the prisoner had nothing to say, he simply held out his hands for the manacles to be removed. Once he was free Curry stretched his cramped muscles before turning to the rancher. "OK partner, let's go hunting!"

Mike turned to the salesman who had remained firmly rooted in his seat staring straight forward, "Mr. Roseman, since you feel so strongly about NOT searching, will you help Joe dig?"

The engineer thought the man was going to refuse again, but the salesman suddenly stood up, and nodded at Joe before exiting the car, muttering in German.

The engineer looked around. Albert was still up in No. 66, nursing Billy, so of the available work force, all that remained were the girl, the sick gambler, and the Marshal.

"Marshal, I'd appreciate your help in the search," Murdock said. The marshal stood up and checked his pistol. "Mr. Banks, Miss Roamer, I'm sure you aren't overly familiar with trains, so I'll ask you to bring us some warm clothes from the box car. We're going to be camping here for the next couple of days, so we might as well get as comfortable as possible."

"Of course, sir." The gambler stood, and offered his thin arm to the young woman who took it reluctantly as they made their way out of the car.

Mike picked up a lantern, "Well," he sighed as he turned to the Marshal, "let's get started."

Pete Barrow, the rancher, and the prisoner, John Curry, decided to skip looking in the passenger car since that was their base of operations. The two men walked past the unused comfort station and back to the baggage car, where they started going through the luggage. "Nothing here is large enough to hide in," Barrow said, as he shivered in the cold.

"You're right," Curry answered as he held up a package, and estimated its weight. "But sometimes the best stuff is in little boxes," he grinned.

"You really robbed trains, eh?" the rancher asked.

"Oh yes," Curry replied. "It's been proven in Colorado territorial courts, so it must be true," he laughed.

"It doesn't seem to bother you much," the rancher said as they climbed down and started toward the box car.

"Why should it?" Curry smirked, "I made more money in one job than the Marshal has made in his entire career."

"The papers say the money has never been recovered," Pete pointed out.

"That's right," Curry answered. "But it was all insured, so what do they care? When they caught me, I went without a fight, I told them everything I had stolen, and how I did it. The one thing they couldn't get from me is where the money is." He laughed. "I may go to prison, but I'll have something when I get out!"

They reached the box car, and climbed inside, "Jeeze, what a mess," the rancher said as he surveyed the place. "Look, that big bat is trapped in here!" He pointed.

"Train wrecks aren't pretty," Curry sighed. "Leave the door open; the bat'll find its way out. C'mon, let's get started," he shivered. "Lordy, is it cold in here!"

* * *

I am disturbed at repose by these two cretins fumbling around my bower. Briefly, I consider killing them, and leaving the bodies beside the rails for the others to find. That would be amusing, but I must not waste food until I am closer to my destination. Once I am firmly ensconced in Glenwood Springs, I can do what I please, but for now I must follow the Master's example and be circumspect. That is boring, really, but necessary.

I transform, and fly out the door as the humans enter. Perhaps it is best that I leave anyhow, the males have brought a light source, and that is annoying. I realize that the destruction of as many of their lamps as possible should have been one of my first moves, but I allowed my hunger to control me, and the chance has slipped away. The Master always counseled me not to give in to my urges, but after so long asleep the bloodlust was too strong. I will look around, and see what the others are doing.

* * *

Joe White stopped by No. 66 to fetch his shovel and hand the conductor his meal. "We're gonna start digging out, Albert," he said as he turned to Mr. Roseman. "You'll have to use the spare," pointing to another tool hanging from a bracket in the tender.

Albert Krause accepted the food and nodded. "Bout time," he growled. "This tunnel is starting to give me the willies."

Joe nodded. "I know what you mean, it's so close in here, and those bats—"

Axel Roseman interrupted. "You gentleman should watch out for the bats," he said nervously.

"Why?" Albert grinned "They won't eat you."

Roseman hefted the spare shovel. "You might think differently if you were raised on tales from the old country. There is danger, being trapped in a tunnel with a large bat."

"Bats," Albert corrected, "there are bats in the tunnel, sir."

Roseman looked at the conductor, "Really? Are you certain of that? Why haven't we seen more than one at a time?" He turned abruptly and climbed down from the cab, dragging his shovel behind him.

Albert and Joe looked at each other, and the fireman shrugged. "Won't matter if he's crazy once we get out of here." He followed the salesman, humming a spiritual under his breath.

The conductor leaned back and sucked at the juice from the can of peaches Joe had brought. Billy Williams, the brakeman, stirred as if he were in the grip of some nightmare, "There there . . . " the conductor murmured as he patted the injured man, "There there . . . "

Amelia and Nathan Banks didn't walk together very far. Despite the chill, the young woman firmly disengaged herself from the thin man once they had exited the passenger car, "That will be quite enough of your assistance," she said.

Banks turned to her, "Amelia, please, if I had only known—"

"That sir; was something you could have found out with a single letter, or perhaps you might have passed by at some point, and checked in with my mother," she said icily.

Nathan Banks, professional gambler, had been approached by Amelia Roamer at a hotel in Denver where she had introduced herself as his daughter. At first the gambler had laughed, but then the girl mentioned who her mother was, and where she had grown up, and Banks knew the truth. Now, as his life was winding down, Nathan Banks discovered he was the father of a spirited woman who followed him everywhere while purporting to despise his very existence. Banks coughed into his handkerchief. "If you would only  . . . tell me what you want  . . . perhaps we could  . . . come to some sort of arrangement, my dear," he said as he tucked the soiled kerchief in his jacket pocket.

Amelia's scorn was as cold as the ice that imprisoned them, "I doubt your ability to provide me with anything I'd value, sir," she replied before changing the subject. "Oh, Mr. Barrows and Mr. Curry are searching this car," they looked inside where the two men had swept up much of the spilled dirt and pushed the broken box out of the way so they could better search the freight car's interior. Amelia glared a warning at her father before speaking, "Gentlemen, could you assist me up, please?"

* * *

Well, my little herd of humans is certainly busy about their own pursuits. I shall change that in short order though. Soon they will only be concerned with my needs. Briefly I reflect on how Fate led me to my present exalted status while they remain mere mortals. But I quickly grow tired of metaphysics. I desire action, and decide to toy with my pets a bit.

* * *

Nathan Banks lugged the pile of clothing Amelia had selected for their use into the passenger car. He dropped the clothes onto a bench, and rested for a moment, trying to think of a way to make a connection with his daughter. So far, she had rebuffed all his advances, and he really couldn't blame her. He closed his eyes, and tried not to think about the ache in his chest. The doctor had said his lung condition was probably fatal. The thought of dying made him smile sadly, he'd lived a full life, but it would be nice to make amends with Amelia before he cashed in. Banks took a deep breath, and his chest convulsed in a cough. He wiped his lips, and noticed blood on the handkerchief. That was happening more often now. Wearily he leaned back on the bench, closed his eyes, then wondered; What was that fluttering sound?

* * *

Ahh. The sick one tries to rest. I am moved to compassion, and will tease him a bit to ease his suffering. But wait . . . what is on that filthy rag in his hand? Blood? Oh . . . lovely, fresh, red blood! I feel my resolve failing. Perhaps just a taste  . . . how could it hurt? I transform in the aisle behind him. Now comes the part I most enjoy, that dawning look of comprehension, then the fear, as they realize my awful power over them.

The sick one sees me. His rheumy eyes widen and he stiffens at my touch. Gently I caress him, and take my first bite. The blood is thin, and weak-flavored; I suddenly recall how I only intended to toy with this one instead of actually draining him. He moves beneath me and I feel something pressed against my side—

The twin .45 slugs from the derringer ripped into the vampire at point blank range, blasting the monster into the far wall of the coach where it hit hard and sagged to the floor, trailing a thick smear of blood on the cream-colored paint. The gambler gasped, and heaved himself upright, his ears ringing from the pistol's reports. Outside people were shouting, and the injured monster looked at Banks hatefully as it bared its fangs and struggled upright. Nathan Banks fumbled in his pockets, searching for more bullets for his gun, but he needn't have bothered. The creature stood still, and began to turn transparent. Boots thudded on the steps, and then the Marshal was standing there, firing his pistol. Window glass shattered, but the creature seemed to have disappeared, leaving only a large brown bat which fluttered out the ruined window into the darkness.

* * *

OH, curse that swine! Satan, see how he has injured me! Once again, my bloodlust has betrayed me! It's all that lank fool's fault! If he hadn't spat blood on that rag none of this would have happened! Oh, but he will pay! The Dark One knows how I can make him suffer! I'll make a lute with his tendons! I'll flay the skin from that wreck of a body, and wear it for a shroud! OH Darkness, how this hurts! I must return to my grave to rest and heal, then vengeance will be mine . . . 

* * *

The shots had drawn everyone to the passenger car's dimly lit interior. Even the injured brakeman managed to climb inside. Amelia was frantically dabbing at the cuts on her father's neck while the Marshal and the engineer were desperately trying to question the gambler. But Mr. Banks seemed detached from the excitement around him. Calmly, he reloaded his derringer, and dropped the gun into his jacket pocket before answering his questioners.

"At first, I saw a very pretty, dark-haired, young woman, dressed in white lace and a shroud," he said.

"That's what I saw!" Billy Williams murmured.

"She smelled of death," the gambler said, "and when she touched me I felt very relaxed, almost sleepy. Then she did this to me," he motioned toward his torn shirt, and the fresh bite marks on his neck.

"Did you see where it came from?" the Marshal asked.

"I'll tell you where it came from," Roseman spoke up. "It came from Hell! It's a vampire, and you sir," the salesman pointed at Banks, "have been marked as its next victim!"

"So that's why you wouldn't look for it?" Mike asked.

The salesman looked ashamed. "I didn't think anyone would believe me."

"What's a vampire?" Joe asked.

"A monster from the old country," Albert answered. "They need to drink blood to live."

"True," Roseman said. "A monster that hates light, heat, and anything holy." He looked around despairingly. "And we are trapped in darkness with it!"

"Now wait a minute," Mike said. "We know it's here, and Mr. Banks hurt it. We should be able to fight back."

"We have to," the prisoner suddenly spoke up. "If it gets loose in a populated place we'll never kill it, because we'll never be able to keep up with it."

The Marshal looked at his prisoner with new respect before turning to Roseman. "Is there a way we can fight back, sir?" he asked.

"Yes, there is," the gambler interrupted as he restrained Amelia from further ministrations. "Set a trap, and use me as bait. As Mr. Roseman says, it picked me, so it'll return." The sick man looked at the young woman and smiled. "It's a hand I'll gladly pay the ante for," and he was rewarded with her tearful smile in return.

As the plan took shape, the Marshal turned to Curry. "If this works, I'll take your bet," he said.

"If it doesn't . . . it won't matter," Curry grinned.

* * *

Those miserable cretins! What have they done? The dirt from my grave has been swept up and tossed into the box! The broken boards are pushed against the side of the freight car sealing me out! My wounds have made me too weak to move the crate. I collapse in agony, clutching my wounded side. I spy some of my grave dirt piled in the corner where their cursed brooms haven't reached. I clasp it to me, pressing the earth to my wound as I try to draw some power from it . . . but it isn't enough. I rue the impulse that goaded me into attacking the thin man. But I know what must be done. I must finish feeding off of the sick one to gain enough strength to punish these animals. I crouch on the floor of the car crying, and my tears turn the earth into mud in my hands.

* * *

Nathan Banks sat alone in the passenger car, shivering under a pile of warm clothes, his derringer clasped tightly in his right hand. The monster would be back, but he didn't know when, and he wasn't sure how it would come at him. He hoped the others were ready.

Outside the passenger car, Mike, Albert, and the Marshal waited. Mike carried the ax, Albert a hooded lantern, and the Marshal held his pistol. Off to the opposite side of the tunnel a small improvised choir suddenly struck up a spiritual led by Joe White, the fireman. The psalm echoed off the icy walls of the tunnel as the humans praised a God that none of them was certain existed.

* * *

AGH! What fresh Hell is this? Can they think of no other way to torment me? Shrieking like small children in the dark! Infuriated, I rise, and resolve fills my breast. I have had enough of these idiots! I have enough strength to transform now, and the wound is already beginning to heal. I fly out the open door towards my victim. These fools are going to regret the day they were born.

* * *

Banks heard the flutter of wings, and realized the curtain was going up on what could be the final act of his life; he thumbed the hammer on the derringer and waited. The bat came in through the broken window, and Banks pretended to be asleep as he watched through slitted eyes. The creature hung in place, and the outlines of a beautiful woman dressed in a ragged white lace dress draped with a shroud appeared. Banks noted the healing wound in her side as she stepped toward him with her muddy hands outstretched. The gambler lurched upright, and leveled his little pistol. "NOW!" he screamed as he pulled the trigger.

As the vampire reeled backward from the impact of the .45 slugs in her chest, the door of the comfort station burst open allowing two men to charge out. The rancher trained the brightly burning carbide lamp into the creature's eyes while the prisoner desperately tried to wrap up her arms with his shackles. As the trio wrestled in the aisle, the others rushed into the car, still trying to sing while they joined the fight to pin the menace to the floor. Although weakened, the vampire was still stronger than any one of the humans, but the odds were ten-to-one now, and the creature was soon pinned to the floor, writhing in the harsh carbide light. "Keep the light in her eyes!" Roseman shouted, as the vampire began pleading in German. "Hah!" the salesman barked, "she promises treasure beyond our wildest dreams to the one who frees her! Don't believe it!"

"What . . . do we . . . do now?" The rancher panted.

"Only one thing to do," Joe White said, and picked up the ax Mike had dropped. "We cut off the head of the serpent."

There was very little blood. They fired No. 66's boiler to a white heat, and fed the pieces of the vampire to the flames. A thin wail filled the tunnel until the corpse was consumed, but nobody minded. Two days later a work train opened the tunnel, and No.66 chuffed out into the sun.

* * *

Nathan Banks passed away in Glenwood Springs. A small group of mourners were on hand for the funeral; a young woman who said she was his daughter, several railroad employees, a rancher, a peddler, and the Marshal.

The prisoner, John Curry, escaped not long afterward, and the Marshal set out in the opposite direction to hunt for him.

The End

Dave Barr has hiked and traveled around the American Southwest for almost forty years. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he tends his garden in between fishing and gaming. Dave has published one story with Frontier Tales, and currently is working on a novella and a full length book.

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