Prey for Daughters
by David V. Mammina
Two hours later, Kay set up a small campsite by a large lake. Supported by a tiny campfire for some light, she suspended her lit lantern off the back of the wagon and began sharpening her knives. Julia was soon awakened by the shearing sounds of blades as she tried catching up on sleep inside the carriage. With the feint light of the lantern and crackling sticks from the fire, Julia just figured she join her temporary companion outside. One of the horses neighed as she stepped out into the stillness of the night. Kay sat with her back against a raised stump, sharpening her knives even as she came to sit with her.
Julia looked over the small, popping fire as she sat in the grass, considering the menacing aura of the hunter. Her striking eyes reflected the fire’s flickering glow. Her dark duster removed, Kay’s thin shirt hugged her form loosely. The blades caught the fire’s light just the same, reminding Julia that there were many weapons in Kay’s arsenal. Like in Booker’s Inn, Julia felt that she had to initiate the conversation or there would be no conversing at all.
“Aren’t you tired?” She asked with the blackness of the lake at her back.
Placing sharpened knives of various sizes and serrations onto an opened fabric, Kay replied coolly, “I slept during the day. The heat made me tired.”
Julia nodded awkwardly before saying, “I’m too anxious to sleep.”
Again, the horses were neighing from the front of the wagon. Kay then said, “That’s Phobos and Deimos. They have been my steeds since the beginning—my only friends.”
“Can’t imagine why you don’t have friends.” Julia jested, then instantly regretting it.
“Human friends?” She countered on cue, “Those don’t work out. I determined a while ago that friends are bad for business.”
“And what is your business?” Julia pushed warily, “If you don’t me asking.”
Rolling up the array of blades brandished out before her, Kay replied bluntly, “My business is population control.”
“You hunt people.” She said amid the crackling fire.
“The bad ones. The broken ones.” Kay took out her revolver from inside her old duster laid out next to her, “Unlike my father, The Ashman.”
Julia was frozen. Kay, in beginning to clean her six shooter, heard her heart rate increase. She smelled her fear, nearly tasting it in her mouth. It was an erotic sport, at times. Instead of leaving her in her trepidation, Kay coldly explained, “There are stories that follow us like shadows. Even though you cannot see them in the dark, they’re still there, ready to torment you after a fragment of light. My father is one of those stories—one of those shadows that has followed me throughout my life. He was a vampire hunter, or so he thought. Even now, every snap of the fire calls ‘murderer.’ You see, they all have their stories, girl. They know nothing. What you heard in that inn was but a tale of a tale from a taleteller. If you really knew my father, then anxiety would be the last thing that kept you from your sleep.”
Her eyes gleamed with an anger tested through years of nights such as these. Julia could feel her skin crawl under her day old clothes. She couldn’t believe she entrapped herself into believing that such a woman could rescue her sister from captivity. There was no escaping it anymore. Julia had run to Mainstay after her spooked horse raced away from her just the night before, not far from the lake behind her. Sitting across from such a daunting woman put her into a sudden panic, fearing for her safety.
Reloading her revolver, Kay followed, “You need not fear me. You’re my client and I am at your service. And I am not my father. I hunt real demons, human ones.”
Finding her mettle, as she often did throughout her life, Julia said, “My father was hardly a saint. He abused my mother. He abused us—my sister and I. Abuse can have many different forms and my father was dedicated in all of them. I had to serve as my sister’s mother, guardian and caretaker for most of my adult life. He left us alone when I stood up to him.”
Kay knew she was telling the truth. Underneath all her beauty and fine clothing, there was a scarred child and war-torn warrior dueling it out for the external show. She detected it now. It only made her more desirable. Ogling her from across the fire, she asked, “Where is your father now?”
“Enid cemetery.” Julia replied boldly, “That’s why we’re here. I’d travel with the daughter of a vampire hunter if it meant finding my sister and bringing her home.”
Enamored, Kay asked another question to satiate her peaking curiosity, “Would you kill someone to save your sister?”
Taking the next step in her dark confessions, Julia riposted in a hesitant whisper, “I already have.”
Kay held her revolver tightly then, pushing in the last bullet with her thumb. She was telling the truth yet again, trusting the hunter to handle her bad secret responsibly. Having finished loading her gun, Kay rested it on her inner thigh and asked, “And what if this is all just a big misunderstanding between your sister and someone else?”
Changing her disposition after taking one of her deep breaths, Julia said, “I want to make it very clear, Ms. Kay. I don’t want any trouble. I just want her back safely.”
Silent, Kay returned the revolver to the inner pocket of her duster. She then brought a bag of hay to her steeds, feeding them as Julia sat there by the fire. Just when she turned her body to look out at the black lake, Kay spoke, “Barley’s house is just up the way. We’ll scout around before sunup. Try to get some rest.”
Running her fingers through her brown hair, Julia scratched her scalp nervously and returned to the wagon. Before swapping the starry night for the cramped bedroll, she called from the side of the carriage, “What if the sheriff looks for me in the morning and I’m—”
“No one’s looking for you in Mainstay.” Kay said, “That page has turned.”
Julia, after a last look out at the dark of night, nothing for miles, attempted to find some sleep. There was no promise of tomorrow. She juggled the many scenarios of the coming morning, each one worse than the next, as she laid her head. She shared too much with the bounty hunter, wondering why she did. She appeared too vulnerable. When Kit was free, could they really distance themselves from Kaiya Kay and Mainstay? She tried to fall asleep, knowing that she made a deal with a stark stranger for the sake of her loved one. Only God knew what the morning would bring. As for Kay, she petted her steeds’ heads and stared out into the night, anticipating Delaney’s posse not far behind.
Flashes of a bloody, screaming massacre rushed through her head as she slept. A dream so vile and dooming could make any hard man awaken to a moistening tremor. Julia burst from her sleep and whimpered, moving sweaty hair out from her eyes. In trying to become accustomed to her surroundings, she felt about and then looked down by the end of the wagon. She squealed when she saw Kaiya Kay standing at the opened back of the carriage, detaching a heavy duster of some kind from the boot. They typically brushed the ground as the wagon went along, wiping away track marks from the dirt. It was still dark and the crickets were singing loudly.
While Julia held her heart in sheer terror after waking up from her nightmare, Kay asked, “What happened to your mother?”
Confused and shaken, she could only utter, “What? Where are we?”
“Your mother.” Kay repeated, rolling up the duster and packing it behind the boot of the wagon, “You never mentioned what happened to her.”
“Look, I shared too much with you last night.” She said, defensive, “I paid you for a job and I want to see it through. Where are we?”
Extending her hand for her client to exit, Kay answered in full garb of pinched hat and black duster, “We’re here. It’ll be morning soon.”
“The house?” Julia took her hand and climbed out guardedly, “Where is it?”
“Just up the hill behind us.” Kay replied amongst the crickets, “We are where you were before you ran to Mainstay.”
She was right. Julia felt naked in her eerie clairvoyance, remembering where she was when spying on the suspect house one night earlier. She had to ask, “How did you know that?”
Telling her straight, Kay declared, “I smelled you here.”
Again, Julia retreated into herself, her blood pumping faster through her vessels. Trying to change the attention to her sister, she composed herself and said, “What do we do now?”
Looking like she was heading into a gunfight, Kay checked her blades and guns concealed within her duster. Phobos and Deimos were gone, as if they evaporated from the hitches. Kay never left her friends to wait in compromising situations. She never wanted them to suffer. The same for the girl she felt attraction for. Even just touching her delicate, but able hand, was electrifying. Then she told her, “You will wait inside the wagon for me to return. Once I’m finished scouting the area, I may need you again. As you said, this is my job and I’m good at it.”
Not satisfied, Julia returned agitated, “And what about Kit? If you see her, what will you do?”
“Bring her out.” She said.
“You’re a hunter of people.” Julia proclaimed, “But, this is not a time to hunt. This is a time to rescue her, even if she’s fine and in love or cooking breakfast or whatever—she needs to be taken out of that place.”
Fixing her hat to lean just over her eyes, Kay started up the hill, saying, “You hired a hunter of people, girl. If you want to see your sis again, you’ll let me be.”
There, holding her forehead in angst, Julia sat on the open end of the wagon and slightly rocked herself. Watching Kay sneak up the grassy hill and disappear over the black peek, she was sure that all bets were off. They crossed the Rubicon together. All the questions assailed her mind then. How was she going to pull her sister out? Could she convince her to leave? Would she pummel her way in and out? What if the law of Mainstay found out? It was a roll of dice.
From the top of the hill, Kay overlooked the isolated house of Dr. Barley and the city of Blackwell in the far distance lit by lanterns. In heading down to reach the fence line of the doctor’s property, she saw two loutish men laughing together under a single porchlight. It didn’t fit into the puzzle of things, but the more she glared at them from afar, she focused in on what they were laughing over. She stumbled upon McCarthy’s bandit brothers. A pair of roaches like them meant there were more inside. The Smiley Smuts patronized Barley’s place. The question remained, however. Were they bandits or customers this night?
Unable to collect their bounties at Mainstay, Kay was eager to cash in big after it was all over in Blackwell. But, first, her real priority. Morning was but an hour or so away, so there was no time to wait them out. In a selfish way, she wanted it like this. Stealth driven, Kay ran along the head of the hill and then crept down the knoll to leap over the perimeter fence, trespassing the Barley residence. Dashing along the side of the large home, Kay hugged the edge of the front porch to spy on the two Smut bandits still laughing like drunken idiots. Sadly, for them, she needed to make her way inside without eyewitnesses.
With a fast flick of her wrist, Kay cast a small throwing knife through the lantern hung over their heads. Before they could handle their alarm, Kay overwhelmed them in the dark. She rushed in and slit one of their throats, then stabbing the other in the eye socket. In but seconds, they were slain. Kay effortlessly dragged their corpses off the porch and nudged them against the house. She rummaged through their pockets, finding wads of cash and stolen jewelry. One of them had a revolver fully loaded. She claimed it as her own, shoving it into a deep inner pocket. With the two bandits out of her way, Kay darted for the rear of Barley’s home unopposed.
It was a bad luck evening for the Smiley Smuts. Kay only prayed that Kit did not share the same luck, if only for Julia’s sake. Making it to the back property, seeking a shady way to break inside, her keen sense of smell consumed her. The foul aroma had come from the cellar doors. It was a stench any feral creature could catch, but Kay knew it as rotting flesh. Staggered by its potency, she pulled off the lock with just her grip and entered the cellar with a long serrated knife at the ready. The odds of Julia’s sister being brought out alive suddenly took a putrid dive.
Upon entering the doctor’s basement, she unknowingly interrupted breakfast between three ravenous dogs. They easily noticed her intrusion, though only one of them charged to attack her. She did not know dogs, let alone which kind came charging to maul her in a bloody snarl, but Kay had no patience for a bad one. As it bounded to take a mangling bite out of her throat, she forcefully took it by head and snapped its neck with a savage aggression. That caught the attention of the other dogs, compelling them to take their meal outside. They hurriedly ran passed her with chunks of meat in their jaws, running out of the cellar without delay. When they raced passed her, Kay recognized the red meat in their mouths. Human meat.
Taking no chances, she sheathed her knife and brought out the revolver. The new depravity of the circumstances made her gnash her teeth in disgust—in a bitter rage. If there came any other body before her that was not Kit she determined to kill them. By the inspection of the bloody massacre left behind by the hounds, as well as its stink and taste, could not have belonged to Julia’s sister. It had essences of an Apache or Cherokee male. Controlling her nerves, Kay growled and headed for the stairs up into Dr. Barley’s home.
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