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Past Tense of Loving
Spike lay very still, trying not to move his head. When he moved it, it made him sick. He’d vomited twice already and didn’t fancy doing it again. He’d never had a migraine, but he imagined this was what one felt like. Other than his head, he wasn’t uncomfortable, so he just stayed very still and waited until the pain went away.
Suddenly, he saw a pair of boots right in front of him, and one of them poked him. He groaned. Someone cursed, and he was hauled to his feet, carried under his arms and deposited in the dark. He let it happen, eyes closed to the pain.
When he opened them again, it was gone. Some hours had passed, but magically, the sickness—whatever it had been—was gone.
He climbed to his feet.
This was bad.
Last thing he remembered (beside the boots) was leaving the hut on the pier. He’d stopped to look at the Edwardian gentlemen again, he’d stuck his head into one of the…. Suddenly, he felt a surge of panic and flew to the bars of the small, dirty cell he appeared to be in. They swung open, and surprised, he stepped through. A man rose from a chair and stood with his hands on his hips, staring at him. ‘Well, ain’t you chipper all of a sudden.’
‘Where am I?’
‘May I suggest, youngster, that you rethink your acquaintance with the demon drink?’
Spike nodded slowly and said probably the most inane thing he’d ever said, ‘This isn’t L.A., is it?’
The man narrowed his eyes. ‘You a foreigner then?’
Spike tried to look intelligent and nodded, hoping being English might suddenly make everything make sense.
Suddenly, someone else came into the small room, and he took a step back, colliding with the desk. For a moment, he thought it was Drusilla. She was tall and dark like Dru, but more importantly, she was wearing a full-length dress, and a bonnet covered most of her hair. Spike backed off some more, and she gave him an equally nervous look. ‘Sheriff?’
The big man went to her and put his hand on her arm. ‘Don’t you be worrying yerself, Tilda. This here young man is a foreigner.’
She eyed him slowly up and down, and Spike dropped his eyes, too. He couldn’t see anything odd: duster, leather pants, his favourite T-shirt and some tasteful jewellery (well, he’d admit the jewellery was pretty outrageous, but he’d been trying to piss Angel off, so had made more of an effort than usual). The man escorted the woman out and then turned back to Spike. ‘You’d best be goin’ ‘bout your business, Sonny. Buy yerself a new hat, if you’ve lost yours, stay off the drink, and don’t let me be havin’ the pleasure of your company a-gin! You hear me?’
Spike nodded dumbly and glanced at the sunlight outside. ‘What happened?’
The man looked annoyed. ‘You had yerself a party, Son. That’s what!’
‘But this isn’t L.A?’ He felt such a fool that he added, ‘Where is this?’
He mouthed, ‘Oh, fuck,’ but nothing actually emerged.
He didn’t want to ask, but they always did—people who woke up like he had done. He’d not spent the last forty years or so absorbing TV shows not to know he had to ask this question. ‘What year is this?’
The sheriff had begun to pour himself some coffee. He kept his back to Spike and said reasonably, ‘You’re getting on my tits now, Son. Why don’t you go play with your little foreign friends?’
‘What year is it?’
‘It’s the same year it was when I dragged your skinny hide into my jail to cool your heels! It’s eighteen eighty, what Goddanged year did you think it was?’
Spike staggered out to the covered walkway, keeping to the shadows, not sure where he was going. Where could he go?
He found a saloon.
He assumed alcohol was still the same.
Everyone stopped talking, and the piano went silent on his entrance. He began to laugh, but it only made people stare more, so he shut up and went to the bar.
When he realised he had no money he could use, he began to laugh again, but it felt as if hysteria lurked beneath the hollow sound, so he turned his back to the bar and surveyed the room. It was freakily as it should be—as every cowboy film he’d ever seen had said it would be—except it stank. Everyone smelt, even the girl in the fancy red dress who took a wide berth around him, eyeing his hair enviously. Stale sweat, unwashed clothes, lack of drains, stale whisky, vomit, horseshit, dog shit, human shit, unwashed hair…. His preternatural senses reeled from it all. His memories made him dizzy. This was his childhood.
He spied some men sitting around a table playing cards, and as he was desperate to get blindingly drunk and pass out, for which he needed money, he strolled over and said cautiously, ‘Can anyone join?’
They all looked at him and he knew immediately he’d been the topic of their conversation. One of them, the ugliest (although it wasn’t easy to single him out from the others) said, amused, ‘You one of those fancy actors from back East then?’
Spike frowned. ‘No.’
‘So….’ He indicated his own greasy hair, still under his hat. ‘Is that hair some kind of disease, because, I mean, we don’t want to catch it!’ His friends found this inordinately funny, hawking, spitting and slapping the table. Spike gave them some latitude for not having TV for amusement, and said pleasantly, ‘Can I play?’
Another, taken courage from his friend, said, ‘You some kinda Injun? All the fancy decorations…?’
Spike nodded wisely. ‘Yes, I’m Sitting Bull, now can I play?’
He waited for them to recover from this latest hilarity but was saved by the girl in red. She sidled over and said to the first man who’d spoken, ‘Let him sit in, Clem.’
Clem gave her a lascivious wink, which she ignored, and Spike sat down. He suddenly remembered he had no money and scratched his head for a moment until he noticed that two of his companions were doing the same, and clearly for better reason. He wrinkled his nose, tried not to look too closely, and made his best friendly face.
The man named Clem was eying Spike’s duster, so Spike grinned and took it off. ‘Okay if I use this as a stake?’
They all nodded greedily, clearly desperate to have such a coat, and Clem dealt.
Spike could have taken them all without cheating, but he did cheat, just to make sure. He needed the cash.
He won fifty dollars, which didn’t seem much, but as a beer cost a nickel, he reckoned he was well away. As he sauntered off with his coat and all the money on the table, a rumbling went up from behind.
He turned. ‘Got a problem?’
‘Yeah. We have. With you.’
There was deafening sound of chairs being scraped and everyone but the group he’d been playing with left. The bartender ducked behind the bar, and the girl ran into a backroom
Spike laughed. ‘This is not happening to me.’
Clem stood up, his hands hanging to his sides. ‘You’re a damn cheat.’
‘Oh, what? And you were playing fair!’
Clem suddenly drew a gun and shot Spike, the bullet blowing the top of his shoulder off. Spike howled. ‘My fucking coat!’ He eyed the damage and came forward. More chairs scraped and one of the others said, awed, ‘He’s not carrying, Clem. You drew on ‘im unarmed!’
Clem holstered his gun, a frightened look on his face. ‘Are you loco?’
Spike pulled away his bleeding hand, gave Clem a look, and then punched him through the window at the back of the saloon. His friends began to back away, and then there was a shout. ‘Hold on a Goddamned minute!’
Spike saw the Sheriff coming in and groaned, holding his hands up. ‘They started it!’
The Sheriff took in the scene, checked no one was dead and went out to look at Clem. He came back in and walked right up to Spike. ‘You need to take that freaky hair of yours, your damn womanly clothes, your faggoty-arsed accent, and your bad attitude out of my town. There’s a stage leaving tonight. Be on it. Do I make myself clear?’
‘I’m being run out of town? I’m being run out of town on the stage?’ He began to laugh, but tears gathered at the corners of his eyes. ‘I need to go home.’
The Sheriff nodded as if that’s exactly what he’d said, eyed the other card players sternly and strode out.
Spike took a shady corner of the saloon, ordered some whisky, and began on his plan: get stonkinly drunk and pass out.
His shoulder throbbed, and he wondered idly how he would be able to feed here, the thought crossing his mind that as the likes of Clem and his friends were already dead, it couldn’t hurt to…. He put this to the back of his mind. He had the freaky feeling that the minute he tried something like that, Angel would come storming in—coat swaying, brows lowered—and give him a lecture.
As the thought of Angel walking in caused a vast surge of self-pity and homesickness to rise up in his belly, he drank three whiskies fast, without stopping, until it went away.
By the evening he was too drunk to walk let alone find his way to a stagecoach, but the Sheriff had anticipated this and duly arrived, picked him up under his arms again and hauled him into the street. He kicked open the stage door, tipped his hat to the other occupants and propped Spike in a corner. He slapped him for a while until he focused. ‘Whaaaat?’
‘You’ll be needing these, Sonny. Danged if I know why I care.’ He laid something in Spike’s lap and added, ‘Took them off another pansy-boy. Guess you’ll like ‘em when you can see ‘em.’
With that, he handed the driver some money, nodded and watched as the stage drove out.
Spike watched his companions through narrowed lids. It was all he could manage: opening them fully made him need to vomit, and he figured doing that in an enclosed stage wouldn’t make him popular.
There was an elderly couple, who kept giving him nervous glances, and a man who watched him steadily, but whose eyes seemed friendly enough. After a couple of hours, Spike stirred and sat up. Something slid to the floor, and he bent carefully and picked up a gun belt with two guns. They were very shiny. He sniggered and wanted to try them on, wanted to draw on people and say bang, but he sighed and closed his eyes again.
When he opened them once more, the stage was stopped at a decrepit looking building. There were a few tired looking horses behind a fence, and that was it.
He was the only one left on the stage: the older man and his wife stretching their legs, and the younger man splashing some water from a trough onto his head.
Spike climbed out, felt awkward carrying the guns, so strapped them on. The belt needed another notch, and slung low on his waist, but it made him smirk and swagger for a moment, until the absurdity of his situation hit him.
The lone man straightened and eyed him with a neutral expression. His eyes flickered down to Spike’s shoulder, and Spike looked, too. A bullet hole, bloodstained around the frayed edges, was clearly visible even in the faint light from the building. ‘You okay?’
Spike shrugged. ‘Where does this stage go?’ Even saying the word made him laugh again.
The man narrowed his eyes. ‘You’re English?’
‘Guess you’re related to Mr Tom then?’
Spike shook his head. ‘I can categorically say that I’m probably not.’
‘But you’re English.’
‘Well, there’s a lot of us.’
‘Not in Wyoming there ain’t.’
‘So… where you goin’?’
‘That’s kinda where we came in.’
‘I asked you where the stage was going.’
‘Ah. Light dawns.’ Spike sighed and perched on the edge of the trough. The man sat next to him.
‘I’m getting off before. At the Big T—Mr Tom Davant’s spread. It’s about an hour on from here.’
‘We’re short of hands.’
‘Did someone have one cut off?’
‘Do I look like a cowboy?’
‘We’re desperate. Can’t keep men. ‘S good wage.’
‘I can’t, Mate. Thanks for the offer. Rare skin, ya know? Can’t go out in the sun.’
‘Thought you were pale.’
‘So… can you use them fancy things?’
Spike wondered for a moment what the man was staring at in his lap and realised it was the guns. He snorted with amusement and stood up. Very carefully, he tucked his coat behind him on one side.
The driver of the stage and the man who ran the stop were watching with interest. Spike reckoned he’d made a fool of himself before and he would again.
Suddenly there was a blur, a shot, and everything went still.
The cowboy jumped up, his face pale. Spike raised his eyebrows. ‘Guess I can.’
The man licked his lips. ‘I’ve never…. Shit…!’
The driver huffed. ‘Ain’t no good being fast, Son, if you cain’t hit nothing.’
Spike pouted, wandered off into the scrub at the back of the building and returned holding a rattler, half-severed by a fresh gunshot.
He knew he was showing off. Hell, he could hear a snake snigger a mile away, and he could move so fast (when he wasn’t drunk) that humans couldn’t see him pass. But he felt he was owed a little fun.
The silence of his companions weighed on him after that. They all climbed back in. Spike was thoroughly embarrassed when he got entangled in his guns and ended up with one falling on the floor, but he shoved it back and knew no one was going to call him on it.
The cowboy sat gazing at him in awe for the next hour then just before he got out said softly, ‘Mr T’s got a little problem I think you could help him with.’
‘I told you: don’t do sun and horses and… well… work, I guess.’
‘This could be night time and…. You got anywhere else to be?’
Spike felt a stab of uncertainty. He stared out into the dark of a Wyoming night in eighteen eighty and suddenly said, ‘Yeah, okay.’ The words would take him with a man who was real to a place that was real. Some of his anxiety faded.
He climbed out, and the man nodded toward a distant light then glanced, worried, at Spike. ‘Can you walk without…?’
Spike flicked him a look.
‘Hat? You lost your hat, or something?’
‘Don’t wear one.’
This silenced his companion completely. He’d never met anyone is his entire life who left their head uncovered. If Spike had taken his pants off and walked naked to the ranch, he couldn’t have been more embarrassed for him.
They reached the ranch house just before dawn, and Spike eyed the soft streaks of sun as he hopped up onto the porch. The house was impressive. He straightened his coat, stood straighter, but had to make an embarrassing grab for his gun belt. He really needed that extra notch.
A small dark woman answered the door, clearly recognised the cowboy and ushered them in. Spike went to the rail instead and said casually, ‘I’ll wait out here till the boss gets down. I’m feeling kinda dusty.’
The cowboy nodded and waited with him. Spike glanced at his companion and wondered if he looked and smelt as bad as the human did.
Presently, a young man jogged down the stairs, neutral, waiting to see what he was being summoned for this early.
He stood in the door and said brusquely, ‘Joe?’
Joe said deferentially, ‘Sorry, Mr T, only I met this here gent on the stage from Molina and, well, he’s….’ He turned his hat around in his hands, seeking the right words. ‘He’s faster ‘un Silver Jack was. I thought you’d want to talk with him, maybe.’
The man smiled and held out his hand. ‘Tom Davant.’
Spike took the pleasantly warm, smooth hand. ‘Spike.’
Davant looked expectant, and Spike added, ‘Just Spike.’
‘That’s an unusual name.’
‘And Silver Jack’s normal, is it?’
Whether it was Spike’s accent, his use of language, or his naturally confident attitude, the man’s eyes sparkled. ‘I see we have something in common.’
Spike smiled. ‘I’m thinking we’ve got quite a lot in common.’
The man laughed. ‘Please, come in.’
Spike repressed a smile and stepped over the threshold. It was cool inside, pretty, clearly the house of a prosperous man. Davant put a hand casually on Spike’s shoulder but withdrew it quickly. ‘You’ve been shot.’ He turned to Joe. ‘Not that fast then?’
Spike intervened. ‘Er… I got this when I wasn’t… carrying? Packing? What’s that bloody expression?’
Davant licked his lips, clearly not sure what he’d taken on. He nodded faintly. ‘Follow Joe to the bunkhouse, and we’ll talk….’
Spike shook his head. ‘Sorry—told your man: I don’t do sunlight. I’ll have to stay here until it goes down.’ It was almost liberating being in a world that didn’t know everything there was to know about vampires, and suspecting everyone who was pale and couldn’t go out in the sun actually was one.
Davant laughed. ‘Guess we’ve got us a vampyre, Joe.’
Spike paled and stepped back. Davant chuckled again. ‘My sister loves gothic horror, I’m afraid, Mr Spike.’
‘It’s just Spike.’
‘Well, it’s Tom, then. I guess you can hole up in my study today. I have to see some new horses; maybe we can talk later. Are you hungry?’
Spike was and could have eaten them both, but he managed to shake his head.
Tom opened a door and ushered him into a dim room. ‘Make yourself at home, Spike.’
Go to chapter 3
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