It wasn’t the ravenous hunger that awoke her for that had been with her since the accident. There was a sound, a new sound. Water. She could hear tiny trickles of water around her.
Aleera didn’t know how long she had been in the dark with the unrelenting pressure keeping her immobile. The cold was irrelevant to her, even the lack of air was meaningless, but the weight above her was massive. She hadn’t been able to move so she slept, though fitfully. She experienced moments of startling lucidity and then she panicked. She was trapped, unable to move more than the slightest degree in her fingers and toes. What had happened? If only she could remember.
Then she would drift away again into blessed oblivion within her accursed prison.
The American railway. Travel was dangerous for her, and certainly by rail she could easily be stranded away from sanctuary if she were a passenger. So instead she elected to go as freight in the mail train heading from Spokane to Seattle.
Something had gone wrong. She was awake but the train wasn’t moving. Had they arrived at Seattle?
“Goddamn blizzard, Billy. Never seen a snow like this one afore.”
“You right, Mr. Blanchard. You be damn right f’sure. We in a heap o’trouble I say.”
“You say right, Billy. We’re in it up to our balls. Stuck in Wellington for who knows how long.”
“Y’sir, Mr. Blanchard. Who knows how long?”
Few things frightened Aleera but she could feel her anxiety rise. Trapped by a blizzard? Where was Wellington? She was supposed to be in Seattle by now. She couldn’t stay here. What if she were discovered?
“You stay here, Billy. I’m going to check with Nicholson again. Maybe the station master gave him some news over the telegraph.”
“Y’sir, Mr. Blanchard. I stay right here and tend de stove. Mighty warm in here which suits Billy juss fine.”
“Thanks, Billy. I’ll bring back some vittles for both of us.”
“Thank’ya, Mr. Blanchard sir. You take real good care o’Billy. I much appreciates it, sir.”
Aleera heard heavy booted footfalls on a wooden floor recede. A door opened and shut. She was alone in the mail train’s heavy freight car just forward of the caboose.
She had planned everything carefully. The crate that contained her resting form was specially constructed. The bottom was covered with a thin layer of earth, her kind needed to rest near the earth. Instead of being nailed shut like any other packing crate, the lid was secured by a series of latches on the inside. In Spokane, she had reclined within and had her trusted thrall Stevens (his blood was so rich and delicious and he was such a good lover) place the lid on top before she made fast the latches inside. This was shortly before dawn and he was tasked with having her “coffin” taken by wagon to the nearby railway station and loaded aboard the mail train bound for Seattle.
The trip was supposed to take a day, maybe two. Now she was nowhere near her destination and she hungered.
She could smell him, this Billy. Aleera heard the sounds of his humming, the opening of a metal door, probably the stove. He was apparently loading it with more wood. Then there was the smell of tobacco. He was very relaxed. This suited her.
Latches uncoupled one by one. They were oiled and made little sound but when she pressed against the lid to remove it, he would certainly hear. There was another way.
“Hm, wha?” He had been half dozing in his chair near the stove.
Now he was awake and looking around. He set his pipe on a nearby table. “Who be callin’ me?”
“I need you, Billy.”
He stood up fast, knocking the chair backward onto the floor. Spinning around, he vainly searched for the sound of her voice. “Who dat? Sho y’self.”
“I won’t hurt you, Billy. I need your help.”
To the young man, it sounded like she was singing instead of talking to him. “Who you? You some haunt? You begone now, hear? My Lord in Heaven Jesus, he be protectin’ me. You be gone, you ol’ haunt.”
“I’m not a ghost, Billy. I’m not haunting you. Come closer. Follow the sound of my voice. Yes, that’s it. Come here, Billy.”
Billy’s feet were moving as if they had a mind of their own. He was walking closer to a large crate, one about the length and width of a coffin. It was supposed to hold a fragile sculpture according to Mr. Blanchard.
The lid was starting to move!
“Now, you be still you.”
“I won’t hurt you, Billy. Just take this heavy lid off of me. I have a surprise for you.”
Billy was terrified but no matter what he did, he couldn’t turn around and run. His arms reached out and his hands grabbed either side of the lid. It was loose. He could lift it.
Billy took the lid off and set it at the foot of the crate. Inside a woman sat up, a living, breathing woman. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen Negro or White.
She had on a fancy dress, his Mama would have called the color Maroon. It had pretty lace at the low collar, on the sleeves, and around the hem. His Papa and Uncles told him never to look a white woman straight on and especially not her “favors,” but he couldn’t help it. That collar was so low and she was so nice and big and round there.
Her eyes were the darkest and prettiest blue and her lips were like painted on red roses. Her hair was black like a raven’s wing, and her teeth were whiter than the snow covering up the whole world outside.
“You see, Billy. I won’t hurt you. I’m just a woman who needs you. I need you so much, Billy.”
He walked a step back…two. She offered him her hand and he took it. Her skin was colder than the winter’s ice, even through her long gloves, but he didn’t mind for the pleasure of being able to touch such a fine woman. He helped her out so she could stand up. She, being a woman, was shorter than Billy, but her eyes were as big as twin moons in the sky. He couldn’t stop looking. Billy opened his mouth but couldn’t speak.
“That’s fine, Billy. You don’t need to say anything. Just hold me, Billy. I’m so cold. You can keep me warm can’t you?”
He mutely nodded and put his arms around her. Then he bent down a bit and she kissed him. He’d only been with one girl before and that was Bessie back home. They’d stole off behind the barn one evening when the older men were smoking and drinking, and they had their way with each other. Billy was only sixteen. Got himself a good job with the railroad. Mr. Blanchard was real good to him. Oh damn, oh damn, oh damn! What was she doing to his neck?
Yes, that’s how she survived during the blizzard. First Billy, then Jesse Blanchard, then once she controlled them, she could leave the freight car, and mingle with the people in the nearby passenger train. They assumed she was a guest at the Bailets Hotel nearby. The guests at the hotel thought she was a train passenger.
It kept snowing. Every hour it continued to snow. Every night the snow fell and it fell and it fell. She was trapped with the rest of them in Wellington as long as it was snowing, but fortunately, she was trapped with healthy prey.
“Miz Aleera, Miz Aleera. Sun dun set. You can come out. You gots ta see this. It real excitin’ an all.”
Billy lifted the lid as soon as she unlatched it. She sat up. She smelled his blood. It was good but he could wait. “What is it, Billy?”
“Rain, Miz Aleera. Snow done stopped. It be rainin’ out. We can gets outta here.”
“Rain?” She was hopeful and concerned. If it was raining and too much snow melted all at once…She looked out. Yes, rain. How long had she been stranded? The calendar said it was February 28th. Nine days they’d been at the train station in Wellington.
“Let’s hope it’s almost over, Billy. Then we can leave again.”
“Oh Miz Aleera. I don’ wanta be away from you. Take Billy with you, Miz Aleera. I do anything you want.”
“Billy you are such a love, but you deserve better than me.”
“Ain’t no woman in the whole world better than you.”
“I know why you’re saying that, Billy. It’ll be fine. In a few days, you’ll start forgetting about me.”
He began to object and she placed a finger on his mouth. “No arguing, Billy. Now come here. I seem to have awoken with an appetite.”
Yes, I remember Billy, Jesse, Deborah, Nicole, the rest of them. But what happened next? Why am I trapped in the dark? Where is the sound of water coming from?
The thunderstorm. The lightning. I remember. The horrible storm, all that rain. The sky was lit up like an artillery barrage, never-ending, like war, like the end of the world.
Then lightning struck what they called Windy Mountain. All that snow. An avalanche. A huge wall of snow, like the legendary juggernaut, an immense unstoppable force. If I’d been at the hotel instead of feeding inside one of the passenger cars while everyone was asleep…
I don’t remember anything else but I know where I am now. I’ve been buried under a mountain of snow and ice. The depot, the mail cars, passenger train, they are all gone. Billy, Jesse, they’re gone. Poor Billy. He really did deserve so much better.
Aleera had to wait until the sun set to plunge her hand up through the melting snow. The western horizon was still a red glow but she saw other lights. Railroad lanterns in the darkness.
“Here’s another one. Wait! I don’t believe it.”
“What, Davis? Can’t hear you.”
Davis was only a couple of yards away when he saw Aleera struggling to rise from her frozen grave, but whoever he was talking to could barely be heard.
“Ma’am. I don’t believe it. You’re alive. Here. I’ll help you. Grab onto my hands.”
She was thin, chalk white, her clothes torn, soaked, ruined. Hardly the beauty that Billy would have remembered, though he was many months dead.
“Please. Please help me.” She was shivering but not with the cold. She clung to him. He had saved her and he was going to save her again.
It was a warm spring evening when she walked back toward Wellington. The snow was still melting and there were parts of the canyon that wouldn’t thaw until July. She’d taken what she needed from Davis but had to leave him alive lest he become like her. The men who found him thought he’d been attacked by some wild animal, and for the rest of his days, Davis himself never remembered what had fed on him.
The local shopkeeper’s son was easy prey allowing her access to fresh clothing, and with the help of a train engineer, they fashioned another means in which she could complete her journey. She would finally arrive in Seattle now that the thaw had come.
I write this for the #WritePhoto challenge hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Every Thursday, Sue posts one of her photos with a theme word to be used as the inspiration for the creation of a piece of fiction or other creative work. This week’s theme is “Thaw”.
When I first saw the photo, it reminded me a little of Montana and, with the “Thaw” theme word, I thought of maybe writing about the aftermath of a snowstorm or avalanche when it was thawing. Then, after some Googling, I came across the Wellington, Washington Avalanche of 1910. Click on the link to learn the details. I also found out more at History.com.
I’ve just completed the fifth chapter in my online horror series about modern-day vampires, but I also recently wrote a flash fiction piece about the trials of one of them during World War Two. Since the blizzard and avalanche I researched occurred in late February and early March of 1910, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen to a vampire traveling by rail and being trapped by the snowstorm in Wellington.
In the 2004 film Van Helsing starring Hugh Jackman, the three brides of Dracula are named Verona, Aleera, and Marishka. I’ve already named characters after Verona and Marishka, so I gave the name Aleera to the vampire in my current tale.
The character of Billy might be difficult for modern readers to absorb. He’s African-American but he’s a young teen in 1910, so given that this is over a century ago, he would act and speak differently than a modern African-American young man, so the way I have depicted him here isn’t my being racist but rather “historical”.
To read other stories based on the prompt, go to Thursday photo prompt – Thaw #writephoto
Below are a couple of photos of the aftermath of the Wellington avalanche. To read a related historical piece about vampires, cults, and psychics, go to Blood and Misery.