The Story of Bat Canyon, part 1
“No, I don’t reckon I’ve seen this before,” the preacher said, standing up and slipping his broad brimmed slouch hat back on. “This cow’s been drained.” The carcass laying on the ground in front of him was freshly dead, but hadn’t started to smell yet. The neck was open in a ragged wound, and there was blood on the hide around it, but not near enough to account.
“See, preacher?” the rancher said to him. “It’s unholy! What kind of monster would do this?” The older rancher stood there with his ranch foreman, pale and sweating more than the cool of the morning would have caused. He’d sent his foreman to come get the preacher when the carcass had been discovered a little after dawn. It was far enough out from the ranch house to not be seen easily, but close enough to scare folk.
The preacher stepped back, reciting a prayer to himself. He turned his head, looking out over the flat land in the cool of the morning. The sun hadn’t risen very far, and the sky was a patchwork of heavy clouds breaking the clear blue sky. “Reckon it’d be unholy,” he said quietly. “But we also need some more to go on. I can’t track worth a lick. I’m thinkin’ we ought to rustle up the Sheriff, maybe even Night Sky.”
The two ranchers looked at each other. The Sheriff wouldn’t surprise them, but Night Sky was a gruff Comanche. He lived in the area, working as a tracker and hunter, selling pelts or helping find stock that had been stolen or people that had gotten lost. He was unpleasant, but good at his craft, and his attitude rubbed some people the wrong way.
“Preacher,” the foreman said. He had a carefully blank face, obviously holding up better than the rancher. “What do you think did this?”
The preacher turned to them and considered. He knew what it pointed to, but these men didn’t and he wasn’t about to frighten people. “Not sure,” he allowed. “But we’ll find out.” With that, he walked back to his horse and swung into the saddle. “We’ll be back in a while. Have one of your boys make sure no coyotes or anything mess with it.” He turned and rode off before he saw them nod. Granted, he wasn’t very old, just shy of thirty, but those men were scared and wanted someone to tell them it would be alright and that they’d be taken care of.
His horse’s easy trot back towards town gave him time to think. He absently tucked his cross back into his shirt, thinking about what to tell the Sheriff. Yeah, this seemed like a vampire. He knew they existed back in Europe, and had an older clergyman tell him back East about a fight he had with one. Tough creatures, fed on blood, other abilities depending on lineage or some such. The older clergyman had told him bits and pieces, but he wasn’t sure himself. From what he’d been told, some were like regular folk but stronger and faster. Some could change into bats. This was all based on what kind of vampire they were, being cursed into it, being changed by another vampire or something else. Apparently these were all possibilities. But why not say anything to the ranchers? If they didn’t know what they were, they sure weren’t going to be settled after the explanation they’d demand. What was for certain was they couldn’t handle displays of faith or sunlight. You could kill them, but again, that was tricky. These different types all had different ways of being killed for good.
He let these thoughts bounce around in his head as he rode up to the church and the house next to it. He wasn’t married yet, so he tried to keep things as clean as he could. He had a handful of sheep to keep the grass down, and he didn’t bother with planting anything. He swung his door open and walked into his bedroom. He pulled open his nightstand and pulled a heavy .44 revolver and holster. After a moment’s consideration, he walked back into the living room, opened his rolltop desk and reached into the back, pulling out a large, bronze cross. The old clergyman had admonished him to always keep something like that around. He couldn’t say why, but he followed that advice ever since. If the legends about vampires were true, his pistol wouldn’t do much good, but it would make him feel better. As he headed towards the door, the clouds overhead rumbled, looking darker. He stopped and sighed. Then, he reached behind the door and pulled his long rain duster off its peg. On reflection, he was glad for an excuse. If people saw the preacher around town with a gun on his hip, they’d get nervous, too.
He swung back up on his horse and touched heels to flank, heading towards the jail at a brisk trot. The rain clouds overhead rumbled menacingly as he rode up the main street of the town, but held off their impending storm. The horse’s hooves beat a steady rhythm up to the door of the jail. The preacher hopped off, looped the reins over the hitching post and went inside.
The sheriff looked up as he walked in. His gray eyes matched the iron of his mustache, but he was still of sharp mind and quick, steady hands. Folk in town knew better than to push the sheriff too far, ever since about five years back, a gun thug had drifted into town. The sheriff had come to tell him to move along with an 8 gauge shotgun in his hand. The thug had tried to draw and ended up dying in the street. The sheriff had gravel in his guts, but was fair.
“Preacher,” he said, standing up from his chair by his desk at the front of the jail. “Don’t reckon I’ve got many sinners here for you to talk to today. Night Sky and I were just havin’ us a chat.” The preacher started, just noticing the other man sitting on the bench by the door. He just sat so still.
“No problems, I take?” the preacher asked. “Mornin’, Night Sky, sheriff,” he said, touching the brim of his hat to them both.
“Good morning, preacher,” the indian replied.
“And to you, preacher,” the sheriff said. “Naw, we were just havin’ a chat about the rustlers from last week and when the reward would be comin’ in. Stage in a few days is supposed to have Night Sky’s payoff. Reckon they’re goin’ choke when they see it’s going to him, so he came to make sure I was there.” The sheriff looked intently at the preacher, noting the iron on his hip, but saying nothing.
“Ah, I see,” the preacher replied. “It’s just as well. I was asked out to the XK Ranch this mornin’, and there’s something I’d like the two of you to see.”
The sheriff and Night Sky looked at each other quizzically, but didn’t waste time getting saddled up. As they rode out back to the ranch, the preacher gave them the bare bones description of the cow and what had looked to happen. Neither of the other men commented, but they rode on. He watched the sheriff lean down and slip the strap off his shotgun’s sheath on the saddle.
When they rode up, the sky overhead had changed. The heavy, dark clouds were racing overhead, still breaking up the sunlit sky, but rumbling with thunder. A young ranch hand sat atop his horse near the dead cow, a rifle slanted across his saddle. He waved when the three rode up. “Mornin’,” he greeted them.
“Mornin’, son,” the preacher replied. “I reckon you’ve got work to do. After we have a look, we’ll let you know and you can do whatever you want with the carcass.”
“I’d let it rot, myself,” the young man said, turning to spit tobacco on the ground. “No way anyone’s eatin’ that meat.” With that, he tipped his hat to the three of them and rode back towards the ranch.
Night Sky swung of his mustang and passed the reins over. The preacher took them and stayed atop his own mount, offering to take the sheriff’s as well. The older man obliged absently, his eyes intent on the body.
“You were right,” said Night Sky in a rough voice. “The blood is all gone.” He was carefully poking at the body with the stock of his rifle. “Like something sucked it out. There are stories in Mexico of some creatures that do this, but they mainly attack goats.” He leaned down, his dark eyes suddenly intent. “But those do not have human hands.”
The sheriff carefully walked up, walking a wide circle around to where Night Sky stood. Night Sky was pointing at the ground where three fingers and half a palm had been pressed into the soft dirt by a patch of touch prairie grass. “It looks like something with human hands pushed it to the ground and caught itself.” He turned and looked, taking careful steps in his soft moccasins. “Wait. No, the cow wasn’t pushed over. These footprints shift and smudge, like it grabbed and threw it to the ground.”
“How do you mean?” the sheriff asked. “Like, what kind of motion?”
Night Sky stood up and took a few steps back. “Something like this motion,” he said, planting his feet, then pivoting them, which caused his body to turn.
“Hrm,” the sheriff said. “I saw a wrassler in a show a few years ago did a throw like that. Grabbed the other feller and turned, threw him down hard. Said he was German or something like that from Europe.”
Night Sky examined the ground more. He pointed out where the cow had been standing, how it had tried to start running when the throw happened. The preacher silently considered this. A blood drinking creature that had the strength to throw a big longhorn cow. He sighed to himself. He’d half hoped that Night Sky would mention it being something some animal like a cougar might do if it were too thirsty.
“That is all I can tell you,” Night Sky said quietly. “Now, I must go. I have other work to do today.” With that, he swung onto his mustang and lit out across the range, away from town. The preacher and the sheriff turned back towards town, riding briskly to try and beat the rain. Along the way, the preacher outlined what he knew of vampires and his suspicions.
“Did you mention this to the folk at the XK?” the sheriff asked.
“No, I didn’t,” the preacher replied. “Didn’t think it right to get them all scared up.”
“That’s smart,” the sheriff said. As they turned up the edge of the street, the racing clouds created wildly shifting patterns of shadows of the buildings across the street. It looked like the dark figures were almost running from something.
“So, where do these vampire things come from?” the sheriff asked in a quiet voice as they walked back into the jail.
“They seem to come from Europe,” the preacher replied. “The stories come out of the areas near the Mediterranean.”
“Now I know what it is,” the sheriff said. “Did you ever meet the feller that settled out in Bat Canyon about a year ago?”
“No, I never did,” the preacher replied. “Name was Smith, right?”
“That’s what he said.” The sheriff sat down at his desk. “Never thought of it ‘fore, but he’s right peculiar. Speaks with this thick accent, can’t hardly understand him. Only comes into town after dark or on days when it’s all overcast. Bat Canyon ain’t a fit place to grow nothin’, walls are so high that the sun don’t shine in there unless it’s right overhead. Fresh water spring, though. But let’s consider what you said. No surprise you ain’t met him if’n he is one of these things.”