by Elizabeth Einspanier
Paperback: 126 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (February 12, 2014)
Amazon Paperback Link
File Size: 513 KB
Print Length: 117 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Amazon Kindle link
About the book:
It is the year 1874. Doc Meadows, frontier doctor working in the small town of Salvation, has always considered himself a sensible man, and has not believed in monsters for a long time. When injured half-Indian Wolf Cowrie staggers into his practice one night, however, he brings terrifying news--a vampire he hunts plans to settle in Salvation and turn it into his own private larder. Now Doc has to overcome his skepticism and fear in order to face down this new threat to his town, before Salvation becomes just another ghost town in the territories. Sheep's Clothing hearkens back to early depictions of vampires as bloodthirsty, charismatic monsters, borrowing more strongly from Dracula than more common modern interpretations.
I had not planned to become a frontier doctor, but clearly Fate had another path in mind for me. I had received my education back East, and hoped to practice there—but a combination of factors had conspired against me, not least of which was my lack of patients. As a new face in medicine, a field where word-of-mouth can make or break a practice, I found myself ignored by most. A cousin of mine told me of this little town that was in need of a doctor. Their old physician had passed on a few weeks previously, and as I had found myself otherwise short of work, I agreed to pack my things, scrape together what little savings I had, and catch the next wagon train headed to the area.
In preparation for my journey, I acquired a .44-40 Winchester repeating rifle and learned to shoot. I considered myself a decent shot, sufficiently able to help the men of the wagon train hunt for dinner during our journey. Additionally, I learned many of the more rustic aspects of frontier medicine, such as the identification, harvesting, and preparation of local medicinal plants that I could use if more modern remedies fell short. I arrived in Salvation, a small town of less than two hundred people, on a rainy day in mid-April of 1874, and set up shop in the very building once occupied by my predecessor.
Mind you, I had heard little of Salvation or its inhabitants, and being so far from outside aid—as it was three days’ journey to the nearest town to the east—left me a bit doubtful, but the locals seemed friendly enough, and they did their best to help me settle in. I learned my way around quickly—not a great feat considering how small the town was—and soon could recognize most of my neighbors by sight. Because of how close people tended to be in Salvation, I was fairly unprepared to receive a stranger that evening in early September when I was getting ready to go to bed.
“Yes, yes, I’m coming!” I called in response to the insistent pounding that threatened to knock my front door from its hinges. I pulled on a pair of pants over my nightshirt, grabbed a lantern, and opened the door without glancing out my front window. I found myself staring down the barrel of a revolver. I will freely confess—as this is an honest account—that I let out a yelp of fright and instinctively put my hands up, nearly dropping the lantern in the process. Nothing happened for perhaps fifteen seconds, during which the entirety of my world centered on the gun that was pointing at my face, and the heavy breathing of the man behind it.
“Are ya a doc?” came the man’s voice, a rough, heavy growl that put me in mind of bears—but my medical training told me that he sounded rather out of breath.
“Y…yes?” I ventured, “Do… do you need medical attention?”
He coughed, a raspy, burbling sound that boded ill for him. The gun shook but remained largely trained on me. I craned my head to see past the weapon, and saw beyond it a rangy, wild-looking man, perhaps six feet tall, leaning heavily against a nearby post on my front porch, using it to brace the shoulder of his gun arm. From the shadows of his hat I could make out a rough, craggy face that hadn’t seen a razor in some time, framed by a shaggy, tangled mane of dark brown hair that fell past his shoulders, with a lock of it twisted into a tight braid by his left ear.
His lips were stained with blood and drawn back in a grimace of pain, and I nearly imagined that his glaring eyes shone yellow. His left hand—the one not holding the gun—was tucked underneath the folds of his duster, and I saw a rip in the coat, surrounded by a dark bloodstain.
“I got stuck in the ribs,” he summarized, “He broke off the point in me. I can’t get to it. It hurts like Hades. Are ya gonna help me or not?” He thumbed back the hammer on his revolver, and I considered that I would do well to answer this question correctly.
Now, looking back, I realize that had I shut the door on him as I wished to, things would have been considerably easier on me than they ultimately were. However, I took an oath as a doctor to aid people in need. Salvation and everyone in it was under my protection, and however frightening he might have appeared to me, turning him away was an act of cruelty of which I simply was not capable.
“I’ll be happy to help you,” I said, keeping my voice as steady as I could manage, “But please… would you lower the gun first? I can’t work at gunpoint.” After a few moments’ consideration, he un-cocked the weapon and lowered it, to my immense relief. I stepped aside as he lurched in, shutting the door after him.
“I’ll need you to leave all your weapons by the door,” I told him, and he turned back to scowl at me. “This is a place of healing, not violence.”
He grunted and shrugged off his backpack, dropping it on the floor in a cloud of dust, followed by his similarly-dirty duster. I saw that he wore crisscrossing gun belts on his hips. Also, on the right side there dangled a loaded crossbow. I wondered that he would have so many weapons on him, but travelling through the uncharted territories can be dangerous for the unprepared. I decided it would be prudent to bite my tongue as he unbuckled the weapon belts and dropped them onto his coat.
His dark gray shirt bore a large bloodstain on his right side, and he moved gingerly, clearly in considerable pain even if he made no sounds to indicate it.
“Take off your shirt,” I said, gathering up his belongings and moving them out of the way of the door.
He gingerly unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it off, favoring his right side. This operation revealed a dark pelt of coarse hair on his chest and back.
“Lie down on your side on the bed over there,” I said, pointing. “Under the light so I can get a look at things.”
As he settled himself in, I washed up.
The stranger’s hide was deeply tanned, as though he spent most of his time outdoors in the sun, though his complexion was dull. His chest and arms were crisscrossed with the white lines of old scars, some of which showed up in parallel lines that looked like he’d been attacked by wildcats—and, if the placement was any indication, he’d faced them all head-on. Underneath he seemed all muscle and sinews, like some wild animal, but so thin that I could see the outline of his ribs. On a bit of cord around his neck he wore the skull of some small bird of prey that I could not readily identify, though I guessed it was that of some sort of hawk. This accessory, along with his sharp features and swarthy complexion, led me to the conclusion that he was half-Indian, or some similar mix of breeds. His fingernails were thick, yellow, and slightly overgrown, coming to blunt points like claws. I bit back my apprehension as I washed up, for I would not be a true doctor if I did not help all those in need.
The flesh across his ribs along his right side was inflamed and angry, as though someone had smacked him with a nest of hornets. The worst of it was a red, blistered area about the size of my hand, centered on a wound between two of his ribs with a folded up wad of blood-soaked cloth stuffed into it, and radiating out from the wound itself I saw dark lines indicating potential blood poisoning.
He was shivering badly as though chilled. I pulled out the makeshift bandage, and he let out a snarl. As he bared his teeth in a rictus, I half-imagined that his eyeteeth were a bit longer and sharper than most, but I dismissed it as the product of fear and imagination.
“I could give you a bit of morphine,” I said, “For the pain.”
“No,” he said.
“I won’t lie to you. This is going to hurt, a lot.” I never much believed in candy-coating the truth except with young children and frightened women.
“It don’t do nothin’ for me anyways,” he retorted, “Do ya see the bit of knife, or don’t ya?”
I looked closer, probing the wound, and saw a glint of metal. “I see it.”
“Then get it out of me, damn ya!” This outburst triggered an attack of coughing that caused blood to spray from his mouth. I felt certain that he would die right then of the punctured lung I believed was a certainty, but the coughing eased back into labored breathing. “Get it out before it kills me,” he gasped.
I went to my surgical tools and selected a pair of forceps, a suture needle, and some sinew. Returning, I saw that his face had gone ashen with either pain or shock, and I knew I would have to work quickly.
I dug out the bit of metal from his side—a shiny, broken-off wedge of what I took to be steel, a piece about the length of the last joint of my thumb—without problems, and I was gratified to note that his breathing eased almost immediately. I cleaned the area with soap and water, sutured the wound, and bandaged him up.
“Sir?” I asked. His eyes were dull and half-closed, but they swiveled in their sockets to focus on me. “I’m done, sir. You’re in pretty bad shape though, so you’ll need to rest here for the night.”
I wasn’t too keen on having the man in the clinic overnight, but the doctor in me wasn’t too keen on him wandering off in the night and keeling over, either.
He rasped out a few syllables, cleared his throat, and repeated himself: “Where is it?”
“The piece of metal? Right here.” I showed him the metal bowl with the broken knife-point in it, but he recoiled from it and pushed the bowl away.
“Get rid of it,” he said urgently, “Get it away from me. Stuff’s poison.” He coughed. “Bury it. I don’t wanna see it again.” He rolled onto his back with a groan.
Puzzled by his reaction, I mentally shrugged and set it aside; out here, metal was a valuable resource, and I knew the smith would be interested in even small scraps. I did wonder how long the man had had it in his side to produce that much inflammation, but by the time I thought to ask he was already asleep and snoring like a bear. Relieved, I tossed a blanket over him, locked the front door, went up to my own room (locking the door securely behind me) and did my level best to get some sleep.