Mail order brides were a common occurrence in the Old West, so when Hank told his friend Logan he’d sent for one, they celebrated in the Bucket Of Blood saloon until they were kicked out by the bartender who was closing up.
Logan had married a lady from Boston last year, when she replied to his ad for a bride. Seeing his friend so happy, Hank decided it was time to seek martial bliss himself. It was pretty lonely at the miner’s camp in Big Gulch, Nevada.
He’d saved up money that he earned hunting for meat and furs for the miners, and felt confident that he could support his new wife.
Unlike Logan, who worked hard everyday at the gold mine owned by the Loman Brothers, Hank was a free spirit who didn’t want to be tethered to anyone, or business.
Gold was first discovered in the vicinity of Carlin in Eureka County, Nevada, in the 1870s, and by the time Logan and Hank arrived from Ohio, it was a thriving business in Jackass Junction.
Hank was a good hunter, and the fur that he cured was easily sold to miners. He also made arrangements with other small mining towns like Jackass Junction, to bring them meat in exchange for coffee, tobacco and liquor.
Once he decided to get married he built a log cabin away from the boom town, and filled it with crude wooden furniture he made himself. There was a bed, kitchen table, four chairs, and several wooden shelves on the wall near a wood-fired stove he bought in a 1887 Sears catalogue.
There were still very few women in the area, and when one arrived in town it was a big occasion for the men, who gathered on the street to greet them. As soon as word got out a newcomer was there to meet her husband, most of the men lost interest and went about their business.
Hank purchased a buggy and two roan horses to pull it. When the day came around for his new bride’s arrival, he joined Logan and the other men in town, lingering around at the saloon.
“What’s her name again pard?” Logan asked.
“Annabel Lee,” Hank cheerfully replied.
There conversation was abruptly terminated when someone shouted, “Coach is here! The stagecoach is here!” The men poured out of the saloon like lemmings to get a look at the new arrivals.
It was a bumper crop of brides, with five women inside. Turned out that only two were brides, and the other three were “soiled doves,” to the absolute delight of the women-starved miners.
Annabel Lee stood out from the other sun-tanned women, because she was so pale. She wore a black dress, with a matching hat and veil, and carried an umbrella. Hank couldn’t help notice some men staring at her oddly.
The stagecoach driver was pulling down Annabel Lee’s luggage when Hank approached her timidly.
“Might you be Annabel Lee?”
“You are Hank then. You’re much more handsome than in the photo you sent me.” she said matter-of-factly.
Hank blushed under his recently trimmed beard.
“Thankee mam…I’ll take care of your luggage.”
Hank helped her up to the buggy seat and went after her luggage. Left alone for a moment, she raised her veil slightly…and hissed, as she surveyed the townspeople.
Hank returned after loading her luggage, and hopped nimbly up onto the buggy seat beside her. He took the reins and gently tugged them. The roan’s took off in a steady pace as they headed to the cabin.
After a few cursory questions the conversation died down. Hank had never felt more awkward in all of his life. His only experience was with a prostitute in the nearby boom town of Hell’s Half-Acre. Once.
When they got to the cabin he helped her down and unhitched the horses. He led them over to a water trough as she stood silently in front of the cabin. After securing both horses near his stallion, he came back and opened the front door.
“C’mon in,” he said with as big a smile as he could muster.
She didn’t comment on any of the furnishings while Hank started a fire in the woodstove.
“Built this place m’sef,” he offered, by way of conversation.
She took off her hat and veil, and appeared paler than before.
“Very talented,” she softly replied. “What else can you do?” she asked coyly.
“Well…I’m a pretty fair hunter, and a decent shot with a Colt .45. Been riding horses since I was five…”
She studied his face as he spoke. He seemed like a nice guy. She knew he would provide good cover for her being here.
He was her complete opposite. She was a traveler who had seen many cities in her long lifetime. He was a country boy out of his league right now. She spoke 22 languages. It was apparent to her that he hadn’t even mastered one, with his accent.
She was tired of the east coast, and when she heard about mail order brides it encouraged her to go on another adventure. So, she answered Hanks letters for a proper period of time, and then made arrangements to come out west and get married.
It had been over 30 years since Edgar Allen Poe immortalized her. She, in turn, encouraged him to pursue his tales of mystery and the macabre. He was the last man she lived with for a while.
The intervening years were spent single, roaming the streets of eastern cities in search of new blood supplies. Unlike novice vampires, Annabel Lee had evolved over the centuries to the thing she was now. The sun was no longer fatal to her. Just something to be avoided.
“I just can’t get over what a handsome man you are Hank! Please forgive me. I know I’m being forward and we aren’t married yet.”
“Awwww shucks mam. I set it up with the preacher so we could get hitched tomorrow.
“How thoughtful,” she said. “Come here Hank…”
The next morning while they were riding to town, Hank felt an itch on the side of his neck. When he scratched it, he got a little blood on his fingernails. Not overly concerned, his thoughts quickly returned to getting married.
Most of the miners in town were working when they got there. The preacher was waiting in the saloon for them.
“Sorry mam!” the preacher said, “We don’t have us a church yet. This will have to do.”
Annabel Lee smiled sweetly and declared, “Oh, that’s all right reverend. I’m ready to marry this fine man anywhere.”
After the five-minute ceremony the bartender bought the bride and groom a drink. He set two beers down on the bar for them. Hank tossed his beer down without hesitation.
Annabel Lee looked at hers, and then at her new husband, “I’m so sorry. But I don’t drink any kind of alcohol. Not that I mind if you do though. It doesn’t set well with me,” she explained.
Months later, a dozen miners grew so weak they could no longer walk. The local doctor, between bouts with John Barleycorn, had no idea what was wrong with the men. He told anyone who asked that they were sicker than anything he’d ever seen. He knew it wasn’t consumption.
Hank and Logan were having a beer at the saloon one afternoon when Logan asked, “What do you think about what’s happened to those men? I ain’t never seen anything like it. The doc says the same.”
“Not sure pard.”
As Hank rode his horse back to the cabin he was troubled. He knew Annabel Lee was sneaking out at night when she thought he was asleep in the wee hours. He decided that he had to find out what was going on that night.
The moon was at its fullest when Annabel Lee stealthily got out of bed. He marveled at how quiet she could be, then rolled off the bed, and pulled his trousers on and his boots. He slipped on a shirt, and leather jacket.
After a slight pause he strapped his gun belt on. One ould never be sure in this wild country.
Hank followed her trail on foot. It wasn’t easy. She barely disturbed the ground she walked on. As a hunter, he learned long ago on how to track prey. As he followed her a growing uneasiness told him this wasn’t normal.
Women didn’t just get up in the middle of the night and go for long walks without telling their husbands. There was something about her that made him uneasy at times. He just couldn’t figure out what it was.
He was lucky to catch a flash of her skirt as it disappeared inside the tent set aside for the twelve sick men. Hank got down on all fours and crawled over to the tent. A candle flickered weakly on a table next to the woman who was asleep in a rocking chair.
A pitcher of water and partial loaf of bread were on the small table. Annabel Lee confidently moved from man-to-man, sucking on their sleeping necks! Hank who was peeking from underneath the tent flap, recoiled back in sheer horror when he saw what she was doing!
The thought of lying next to that monster who was sucking the poor men’s lifeblood away was too much. He was a simple man who knew very little about supernatural things. He heard a few scary yarns growing up in the Ohio Valley.
But nothing like this.
Hank crawled away from the tent until he was near the livery stable. He got up and made a mad dash for it. Inside, he found the preacher snoring loudly and still clasping a bottle of rot gut rye in one hand.
Hank plucked the bottle from his chubby fist and shook him hard, “Wake up! I need you!” he whispered. It took a pail of water and some slapping, but Hank got him to finally wake up.
Sputtering indignantly, the preacher demanded to know why he was so rudely awakened?
“Hush! Keep it down and listen to me. What kind of creature sucks folks blood?”
The preacher’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Why do you ask?”
“That gal I hitched up with, is sucking men’s blood. That’s why those miners are so sick!”
This time the preacher crossed himself, “Are you sure?”
“Saw it with my own eyes a little bit ago,” Hank assured him.
“She must be a vampire!” he said, and crossed himself again for good measure.
“What in Billy hell is that?”
“A demon of the night. They can only be killed by a wooden stake through their black heart, or cutting their head off!” the Preacher explained.
“You mean bullets don’t kill them?”
“I’m afraid not Hank. They also have supernatural strength, so don’t get in no wrestling match with her.”
Hank left the now very sober preacher and went back outside. He got back down to the ground and crawled over to the tent. She was still there, stroking the hair of the sleeping woman.
Careful not to make a noise, he headed back to the cabin as fast as he could. It seemed like he no sooner got there when the front door creaked and she slipped in inside beside him on the bed.
It took all the will power he had to lie still, and wait. It wasn’t long before he could tell from her regular breathing that she was asleep. The predawn quiet seemed sinister as Hank slipped out of the bed.
Without dressing, still in his long johns, Hank went outside to the woodpile and went through a stack of sticks that were trimmed off from his last load of firewood. He picked one that was sturdy and narrow on one end.
With a nearby hatchet he sharpened it. Then he got a hammer from the tools in his small shed. The hunter in Hank kicked in as he went back inside.
Before he chickened out he put the stake over her heart and thrust down! He hit the stake again with the hammer! It was over in a moment. Her body turned to ashes. There wasn’t even a skeleton left.
Horrified and amazed, Hank got dressed and rode into town. He went straight for the saloon and waited until it opened. The bartender shook his head when he opened up the saloon.
“Kinda early Hank.”
Nearly a bottle later, Hank was still standing but reeling awkwardly.
When Logan came in the saloon later that afternoon, after working at the mine, he found Hank three-sheets-to-the-wind. Logan patted his old friend on the shoulder and asked him about married life.
Hank started to say something…but started coughing so hard, he fell down to the ground gasping for air. He finally got air enough to moan, “Never again!”
As It Stands, whose to say a few bloodsuckers didn’t go west back in the day?