"My story starts out with me, Wicked and the Dark Angel. But before I launch into my tale, let me say, here and now, Wicked is my mischievous baby sister. I've been watching over her now...well...since I started robbing banks and shooting folks at fifteen, to feed her and me. Our folks were burned up working the fields in the Panhandle bottoms and died a week apart. I figure they couldn't tolerate the separation.
That was long before the Vamps turned me and Wicked at midnight, on New Year's Eve in nineteen-double- ought. The Dawn of a New Century! the papers named it. Lots of celebrating and fireworks shooting off and such, for just another day as I saw it. All that hoopla must of brought the blood suckers rising out of their holes like night crawlers after a good rain.
Well, we had it pretty rough back then, Wicked and me. No Teleportation, no Mind-Hook-Ups, and definitely, no living past your prime. "Course back then, a good ol' age lingered around forty-seven years. Our daddy had already been treading water in life's swamps for fifty years, when he finally took a nose dive into a patch of sorghum. I'm not that sharp at numbers, but I figure I've already added on considerably to my own life above the ground, since the Vamps made me and little sister a better offer than a noose.
I was clearing twenty and Wicked was fourteen at that particular moment. Appears I'd caught the attention of the notorious Bounty Hunter, Miguel Sanchez, and if you bear with me, I'll explain how life was changed forever after.
I'd heard stories about Sanchez around the dusty border towns, when I visited for a day, or so, before making my 'withdrawal' from the local banking establishment or Dry Goods Store. He was described as The Dark Angel because he always preferred the "Dead" part of "Dead or Alive" as his guide to bringing in his prisoners. At several of the bars I visited, gathering information on Banking Hours, potential guards, and such, the locals would turn jittery and pale if I brought up the name, Dark Angel. In one bar, I struck up a conversation with the town's Undertaker. Like many of his profession, he was a friendly drinker. He said the bodies he'd seen after the Bounty Hunter brought them in for his reward, looked like they'd been dipped in candle wax and left to dry in the noonday sun. His hand shook upon the recollection and a few drops of the dark liquor spattered the bar. I must admit, I felt a tad spooked, but considered it my companion's influence and ordered him a new drink.
But that night, as the clock ticked toward 1900, I had the dubious pleasure of meeting the Dark Angel, Miguel Sanchez, for myself.
I was out in the back stable, rubbing down my mare after a quick departure from a bank several towns away. I heard a horse, clippity-clopping over the hard dirt that passed for our front yard and sauntered over to check things out. I knew it couldn't be a law man that quick, so I relaxed a bit and smiled as Miguel got off a gleaming black horse. That beast must have stood seventeen-hands and when it moved its huge head to give me a look-over, I saw its eyes were a fiery red! Miguel, on the other, hand had a broad grin creasing his round face as he looked me in the eye.
Standing a good six-foot, he was built like two men were stuffed inside his black shirt and road-weary denim pants. Right off, I noticed the leather boots he wore. They'd been expertly hand-tooled, with a pattern of lightening bolts, flashing in yellow around the ankles and encircling his lower legs, to the calves. His skin was a deep, burnt-brown. I guessed he'd come out of the wild mountain country somewhere in Mexico. All in all, he was a remarkable looking man and his friendly smile put me off my guard some.
Wicked, as I recall, wasn't so easily taken in with his charms. She hung back, just inside the open front door. I saw her reach in and grab the rifle I kept ready for just such unexpected visitors. She didn't show it, but stood close to the door frame to conceal her little surprise until she needed it. Wicked is some kind of warrior that girl is!
"Afternoon, mister," I said as I watched Wicked ready her gun from the corner of my eye. "Don't get many strangers out this way. Care to state your business?" I said real friendly. Guess that charming smile I wore didn't reach my eyes, because he said, "No need for alarm, Senior. I mean no harm to you, or your young sister. I am here to offer you a better way to get rich than robbing these poor farmers of their money."
"What the hell you talking about mister?" Just then I picked up Wicked's move as she pushed away from the door. "I suggest you get back on your nag and ride out of here in the saddle rather than over it!" Wicked added the punctuation to my comment, with the distinct sound of cocking her rifle.
"I don't give a pile of steaming cow turds about your little enterprise, Senior. I am only interested in offering you and your sister...Wicked, I believe she is called?...I want you both to join me in an everlasting adventure! You will have riches beyond your wildest dreaming and the life-time of an Angel to live those dreams! No more midnight raids thinning out your neighbors herds of stinking cattle. No more bank robbery to fend-off long, hungry winters. And most importantly, no more suffering the pains of growing old and shriveling up like your parents did."
Wicked stepped off the porch, still holding her lever-action rifle pointed at his chest. "Go on Senorita! Pull that trigger and test my promise of eternity." He lunged toward her and Wicked sent a blast square into his broad chest. He was blown backwards and fell to the ground, landing on his back, still as a black crow hit with sling shot. We both came close to stand over him. Sudden as a rattler, that big man sprang back onto his boots wearing that same cocky grin. The front of his shirt was shredded, the pieces of fabric flapping in the dry wind. There was a hole the size of a squirrel's head, but it was closing up so fast we hardly saw it before it vanished into his chest. So now we knew what the stranger meant by having the lifetime of Angels!
"I believe you already know who I am, as I've been...shadowing you, you might say. I want to recruit the both of you now, before the Sheriff in the town you just left, finds your trail. He's part Apache and a very excellent tracker. You'll both be hung for murder, cattle rustling, bank robbery and likely for killing off some of his posse when they get here. You'll be dragged out of here to the nearest tree and fitted with a rope. Trust me, Senior, these men won't care if one of you is a young woman. Her feet will dangle over the dirt just like yours. I'm here to offer you eternal life and you've both seen with your own eyes, I have that power."
It was pretty awful the way he was going on about our future demise and thinking about my little sister suffering a hang-man's noose gave me pause.
"What do we have to do for you mister, to get all that life and all?" I was surprised to hear Wicked's voice since she never speaks up like that and never to a stranger.
"Do, Senorita? Why, just invite me into your home and we'll have a little bite to discuss your future. All will be revealed shortly after. Oh, and I did bring an associate along, so you could both meet her before we conclude our business."
A woman stepped out from behind Wicked. I never saw her sneaking up on us, but all of a sudden, she was there! I swallowed hard to get my heart out of my throat. Wicked's eyes were wide as she backed away from her. The woman stared into Wicked's panicked face. Reaching out she gently took the rifle out of her hands as easy as taking a rattle from a baby. I blinked twice to be sure of what I was seeing. The gal was about Wicked's size, small and thin. She took a clump of my sister's hair and pushed it away from her neck. The next thing I saw was Wicked standing as passive as a cow at milking time as the woman sucked on her neck for a minute. When she pulled away, her mouth was covered in blood and Wicked dropped heavily to the ground. I wanted to help her, to stop the attack but I couldn't move. The Dark Angel had a hand on my shoulder and pushed me down to my knees. I tried to shout out, when he leaned over me and I saw his grin was wider and two long teeth hung out of his mouth like horns on a bull.
A long time has passed like a ship in heavy fog since that New Year's Eve. Wicked and I have seen hundreds of celebrations so far and figure we'll be seeing hundreds more. The Dark Angle and his woman dropped out of our little gang after the first twenty-years because they got bored with what they called the thin blood of the scrabble farmers and ranchers. With all the money we could want, Wicked and I wonder how to spend our endless time. We are limited you see, because she's still fourteen and will be forever. And me, I'm still a tad over twenty. I've dodged two wars that I know of, hiding in this swamp. We moved here in kind of a rush. Our last dinner guest at our fancy mansion happened to be the town Mayor. Unfortunately he let the City Council know exactly where he was spending dinner that night. We only eat when I can find a gator hunter, but it's getting pretty rare these days. Lately, I've noticed Wicked giving me some strange looks. I caught her whittling on a long piece of wood the other day, said it was to relieve the stress of living. I decided to write down this story so there's a record of our lives for whoever stumbles across our cabin."
"George! Over here!" The air boats skimmed the brown water, its growling motor causing a disturbance among the population of the swamp. "Looks like a hut or cabin over here." The two crafts made for the small dock jutting out from the muddy bank. Within twenty minutes George and his buddy found a headless corpse with a stake sticking from its chest and wormy wood boxes filled with rotted cash and gold coins. They were in the process of loading their booty onto the bobbing decks when a young woman's voice called out.
"Stay for super fellas!"