Tristan grunted as he climbed off his horse.
“You look a little boozy, Tristan,” Lonnie said. “You sure you still ain’t hurt or anything?”
He wrapped the reins around a posting hitch. “I’m all right.” He watched as the rest of the boys, except for Reid, made their way toward one of the many saloons in Buck Creek City, New Mexico.
“You don’t look well,” Reid said. “You sure you’re all right?”
Tristan nodded. “You should join the boys. I’ll be there in a bit.” He watched as Reid caught up with Lonnie, Ike, and Edwin before they headed inside.
He leaned his head back to catch his bearings. If he bent down fast enough, he could still feel where the buckshot blasted his chest weeks ago, back in Dodge City. There was no way in hell they could take a hit like that and brush it off like it was nothing. But he could.
Lonnie, the leader of their gang, expected well over a thousand dollars when they hit the bank. Tristan believed him, and he dreamed of what he could do with that much money. He had always wanted to buy that farm right near El Paso, Texas. It had the best fields he’d seen since he had spent some time in the northern part of the state. Only after a year and five banks, he’d had his fill of riding in a hail of bullets every which way, up and down, east and west, to avoid the law.
But someone had tipped the town off, so when they got there, the bank was bone dry. The sheriff had ordered the money moved somewhere else, and when the gang realized what was going on, they were met with a hail of gunfire, in which Tristan took the brunt of it.
They were, once again, among the willows. Soon every sheriff, posse, and lucky swift would be on their trail, hoping to cash in on the bounty on their heads.
Reid said he’d pulled out twenty-two lead bullets from his chest, not counting the buckshot pellets Tristan had to take out himself.
This should’ve stopped them from thinking about their next job, but the boys showed no signs of slowing or stopping.
Brothers Lonnie and Ike had formed the gang after their release from the Missouri penitentiary. They’d started their thieving life at a young age, with Lonnie killing a local butcher and stealing a slab of meat to feed his younger brother. When they made their first hundred robbing a stagecoach, they didn’t look back.
And then there was Reid, who was a little older than Tristan but a tenderfoot and inexperienced blue belly. He was different from the rest of the gang. He had a family in New York to go back to, but the thrill of heading West drove him to do so.
Edwin wasn’t much better than Lonnie and Reid. He had evil in his bones, and after a job, he usually squandered his money away in those brothels he loved so much. He was a real curly wolf, especially after a night for drinking whiskey. And yet he was the muscle of the group, so if anyone needed killing, he was the one to do it.
Yet they hadn’t had the same spooky and weird beginnings like he had. They weren’t shot by the owner of a local laundry, who later dragged him behind the building and felt him up with his hands. They didn’t have the pleasure of experiencing a weird rush of energy inside them. They hadn’t come back to life.
At first, Tristan had counted it a blessing. Soon he realized he could do things normal men couldn’t do. Yeah, being out in the sun stung a little, but he solved that problem by always wearing layers of clothing. But there was no cure for the color of his eyes turning red, along with the matching dark, red veins that appeared on the surface of his skin.
There was also this underlying desire to eat. He was always hungry but not for a good, cooked steak. He was always thirsty but not for whisky or even water. It was human he was after, and if he wanted the pains to stop, he knew what he had to do.
He headed inside Buck Creek Saloon and walked past the boys, who stood by the bar, and toward a beautiful woman with dark curly hair and a white sleeveless gown.
“Can I help you?” A seductive smile appeared on her face.
He looked her over. “Not you, ma’am. I’m looking for someone younger. My apologies.”
She pointed up the stairs without saying another word. Before he headed up, he felt a hard hand grasp his arm. He turned and saw Reid.
“Tristan, you’re going to do that here?” he asked.
Reid leaned in and whispered in his ear. “Hurry up, and don’t kill her.”
Tristan smiled. “You know I don’t kill them, Reid.”
“Yeah, I know, but I still wanted to tell ya. Oh, and Lonnie is already paranoid that we have law on our tail.”
“When isn’t Lonnie paranoid?” Tristan slapped him on the shoulder to calm his nerves. “I’ll be back in a few.”
Tristan made sure he was careful. He didn’t want to harm her more than he already had.
He’d made sure she was comfortable and she appreciated his concern. Women in her line of work didn’t have it easy, and she’d showed him the purplish bruises on her back and legs as examples of her previous encounters. He promised he wouldn’t hurt her and that he was nothing like the other scoundrels who’d had their way with her.
He asked her to close her eyes and trust him, and she did so. He laid his fingers on her chest, and slowly, the red veins beneath his skin rose to the surface. He still didn’t understand where this madness came from, but he knew he had to feed it, or it wouldn’t protect him. Her energy felt warm and soothing to the touch. It tingled his fingertips and traveled up his forearms in small electrical shocks.
First, she hummed in pleasure, so he took more. Then her face contorted, and when she started to whine, he stopped by lifting his hands. She fell soundly asleep, and he propped her head on her pillow and covered her in a blanket. He knew she’d be out for a few hours, which was just enough time for him and the rest of the boys to be long gone out of the town.
He heard a subtle knock on the door, which pushed him to his feet. It couldn’t be the girl’s madam. He paid for three hours, and only thirty minutes had passed. Reid always checked up on him, so at first, he figured it was just him. But something felt off when he approached the door. There was an unfamiliar scent in the air, and he pulled his peacemaker from his holster.
“Who is it?” He stood to the right of the door and listened.
“You don’t know me, but it’s urgent I talk to you,” a male voice replied.
He cocked his hammer.
“There’s no need for that,” the male said, responding to the noise. “I promise you. I just need a little of your time.”
“What if I’m not in the mood to talk?”
“You will be. I am the only one who knows what is happening to you. I’m the only one who understands,” he replied. “And if I was the law, I would have broken down this door by now. But I’m not. I am like you.”
“Mister, I doubt you’re like me.”
“I am. I know all about the hunger and how it feels to satisfy it.”
Tristan unlocked the door and opened it. As the stranger walked in, he aimed his gun at the back of the man’s head. “This better not be a trick.” While still keeping a close watch on him, he closed the door and relocked it.
“This is not a trick.” The man slowly raised his hands. “I’m not armed.”
Tristan patted him down, and once satisfied, he forced the stranger to turn around. He saw the red veins spread throughout his face. Startled, Tristan pushed the barrel of his gun between the stranger’s red-colored eyes.
“Please, do not do that,” the man said. “Head shots can be pretty painful for us.”
“Then start talkin’,” Tristan threatened, “and I won’t start shootin’.”
“Well, as you can see, I am like you. My name is Dusk.”
“Dusk? What kind of name is that?”
“A name given to me a long time ago.”
The resemblance was uncanny. It was just like himself, so Tristan placed the hammer back and holstered his weapon. “Don’t be sawin’ me.”
“Does it look like I am playing games with you?” Dusk looked over Tristan’s shoulder at the woman in bed. “Did you kill her?”
“No. I don’t kill them.”
“You don’t take it all, do you?”
“Her essence,” Dusk answered.
“Is that what it’s called?”
“Yes. It is what we need to survive. It’s good that you didn’t take it all.” He exhaled. “If you did, you would turn her into what we are.” He lowered his hands and approached the bed.
“And what exactly are we, if you don’t mind me askin’?”
Dusk sat next to her and grabbed her hand. “She’s cold but alive. Good. Good.”
“I asked you a question. What are we?”
Dusk faced him. “Wraiths.”
Until… one of her kind is murdered by a mysterious man in a black mask.
With only Carter, an unlucky human witness, by her side, Faye must find a way to prevent the body count from rising and protect her family’s secret identity. As the man in the black mask lurks in the shadows waiting to strike again, her choice becomes a matter of life and death.
In the face of true evil, being normal is overrated.