The girl rode a lathered horse into town at a gallop, clinging to the remnants of its harness. She reined the horse into a skidding halt in front of the jail, where Sheriff Cyrus Corbett had poked his head out to see what the ruckus was. She fell trying to dismount, and landed hard.
“Help… Please!” She crawled up onto the boards in front of the jail, bleeding. “Bandits!” She collapsed at his feet, one arm outstretched toward him.
“Shit!” Cyrus looked down at her. “Somebody get Doc!” He crouched and rolled her onto her back. Blood soaked her hair, a bruise purpled her jaw, and a split lip had bled down her chin. Blood soaked through her dress in a few places, near tears in the calico fabric. Her skin, where it wasn’t covered in blood was smooth and pale beneath the dirt.
“Stupid sons of bitches!” He sighed and scooped her up in his arms to carry her to his quarters over the jail.
“Where am I?” She tried to sit up in his bed, and breath hissed through her teeth as she jarred broken ribs. Cyrus looked up at her from the chair on the other side of the room.
“Absolution.” He put away the knife he'd been cleaning his nails with. “What happened?”
“Bandits. I… shot a couple, but…” She worried the split in her lower lip. “One of ‘em snuck up on me from behind.”
“He didn’t…?” Cyrus lifted his eyebrows.
“No! No, I got away.” She closed her eyes for a second.
“I sent men out to see what they could find. Something or someone did a pretty thorough job on those bandits.” He watched her carefully.
“I shot a couple, like I said.” She paused. “Sir.” She looked at him, eyes wide. “The one that grabbed me, I might’ve stabbed him.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “I was napping in one of the wagons when I heard the screaming.”.
“You ain’t telling me everything.” Cyrus leaned back in his chair. “The men who were shot, they were shot in the center of the forehead. The man who was stabbed? Throat slit and gutted like a deer.” As he spoke, her tears dried up, and she levered herself up against the headboard, grunting at the pain.
“Sheriff, think carefully about the questions you ask. Because some things can never be unlearned.” Her eyes remained level on his, assessing his reaction.
‘Killer.’ His gut clenched, but he kept his face impassive. “Name.”
“Violet will do.” She folded her arms over her chest, wincing.
“What was with the wilting lily act, Violet?” He said the name deliberately and slowly.
“I was in a bad way. There were more of them than I expected.” She frowned. “You noticed you been getting fewer settlers through here than normal?”
“These bandits are why.” She lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose.
“What if I say I got a deal worked out with ‘em?” Cyrus forced himself not to tense up every time she so much as twitched.
“It ain’t workin’ out like it’s supposed to, is it? Not lately.” She narrowed her eyes.
He frowned and said nothing.
“They’ve been suborned by some,” she paused like she was trying to figure out what exactly to tell him, what she could tell him, “other bandits. Bandits I’ve been tracking for years.” She sighed. “Your guys are why there were more of them than I expected.” She rubbed her eyes with a hand. “Fuckers.”
“You’ve got quite a mouth on you.” He tilted his hat back on his head.
“You should see what else I’ve got on me.” She smiled and winked, but the smile never reached her eyes.
“Are you trying to distract me with your womanly wiles?” Cyrus snorted.
“Won’t work.” But his eyes strayed to her breasts under the shirt of his the Doc had dressed her in after bandaging the cuts on her shoulders and back.
“Mmmm, actually, I’d prefer you weren’t distracted.” She looked up towards the ceiling. “If they’ve figured out who I am, they’ll be here after me.” She started to lever herself up, hissing in breath. “What’d you do with the wagons?”
“Brung ‘em into town.” He stood, watching her gain her feet.
“Good. Take me to them.” She looked around, standing there in just his shirt.
“You sure you’re up to that?” His eyes lingered on her legs. Nice legs, in spite of the bruises, and scars.
“No. But I don’t have a whole lot of choice. I’m kind of surprised they aren’t here already. And I need my weapons.” She took an experimental step.
“Out back. But you’ll need some pants or something.” Cyrus levered himself up out of his chair
“My clothes should be out there.” She took another step, and paled.
“You ok?” He did not move to help her, more than a little afraid to be inside her reach.
“I will be.” She gritted her teeth, and started across the room. He shrugged and followed her. She limped down the stairs and out the back to where the wagons waited. A couple of his deputies nudged each other, and started to snicker. She turned her head to look at them, and they stopped, dead silent. Out by the wagons, she took a deep breath, contemplating the back of one. Cyrus brought her a crate and set it at the back of the wagon. She smiled at him, before climbing up and pulling out a pair of trousers, some socks and boots. She dressed as quickly as her injuries allowed, then went to the side of the wagon. Her fingers pressed a series of knots in the wood, and a hidden panel swung out, and down, revealing a pair of gunbelts, which she strapped on. She pulled out a tin of bullets, opening it up to examine the contents. Nodding, she handed it over to him.
“What about your family?” Cyrus watched her lace on a pair of leather bracers, holding the laces in her teeth to tighten them.
“They weren’t my family, and they didn’t deserve to die like that.” She looked over at him. “They’ll come at sundown. See if you can’t get everyone to stay inside, lock and bar the doors, shutter the windows.”
“You’re serious.” It wasn't a question.
“Trust me. I wouldn’t drag my ass out of bed with broken ribs if I weren’t.” She tried, and failed to take a deep breath.
“I’ll see people stay inside tonight.”
“Good. I have some ammunition I’d like your deputies to use." She tapped the tin of bullets she'd handed to him. "Position them in windows overlooking the street, and tell them when I signal, they are to fire as fast as they can into the bandits. As fast as they can, as many times as they can. I don't care if they recognize them. Shoot all of them.”
At sundown, the bandits rode into the town. Their horses danced, and shied, nervous. Violet sat on the porch of the jail, with Cyrus, a pistol in her lap. The Sheriff’s deputies watched from various windows, rifles ready.
“Thought I smelled you, Pearl.” The leader had a young girl, maybe 13 years old on the saddle in front of him. One of the girls from the family she’d been traveling with. Tears and blood on her face, she whimpered. The leader looked down. “You failed her, Hunter.”
Violet, Pearl, whoever she was, lifted her gun, and shot the girl in the head. Cyrus’s feet hit the boards, and he stared at Violet.
“What the hell?”
The girl’s blood and brains covered the leader’s face. He snarled, revealing fanged teeth, and shoved the body off the horse, which had started to buck and jump.
“It’s been a long time, Grigori.” Pearl stood and stepped down off the boards. “I can give you peace.”
“I laugh at your peace!” He snarled like a dog. The horses of the rest of the bandits, already nervous, started to panic, making small hops, beginning to buck. As Cyrus watched, faces started to elongate and stretch out into muzzles, claws sprouted from hands, and fur started to color weathered and tanned skin. And through it all, Pearl stood solid, not reacting at all.
“I thought you’d say that.” She tipped her hat, the signal. The Deputies opened fire with the silver ammunition she’d given them. Bullets ripped into the bandits, and they yelped and howled like wounded wolves, falling onto the dusty street. One of the partially transformed men tried to flee, and Pearl shot him in the back. He went down quick, silent. The horses, some of them wounded, bolted.
After they’d all died, Pearl turned to look at the Sheriff.
“Thanks for your help.”
“I figured, seeing you shoot that girl, that I maybe didn’t have much choice but to follow through.” He stepped off the porch to stand next to her.
“They’d bitten her. She’d have changed within the next few days. Kinder this way.” As he watched, what appeared to be a genuine emotion flickered across her face, and then was gone.
“What were they? What happened?” He kicked one of the corpses, as it shrank back into human guise. It twitched, and Pearl shot it once more.
“Werewolves.” She turned back to the jail, and stumbled. Cyrus took her arm.
“You all right?”
“Yes. Burn the remains, all right?” She let him help her back up to the porch. She sat heavily in on a chair, and looked up at him. “What?”
“How are you feeling?” He stood in front of her, frowning at her.
“A little rough, but I’ll live.” She laughed after she said it. It was not a happy sound.
“Who are you?” He looked up. His men had filtered down out of the surrounding buildings. “She says burn the bodies!” he hollered at them.
“Violet, Pearl, call me what makes you happy.” She tried to shrug, and winced.
“You’re hurt bad, aren’t you?” He crouched in front of her, taking in how much paler she'd gotten.
“Yeah, I am, Sheriff." Again, that bitter, humorless laugh. "Fuck, I don’t even know your name.”
“Cyrus. Cyrus Corbett.” Still crouching, he tipped his hat to her.
“Cyrus, I’d like you to do me one last favor.” She looked tired, lines he hadn't noticed before appeared around her eyes, the corners of her mouth. Like maybe she was older than he'd initially thought.
“What?” Cyrus remained where he was, not sure he liked the direction this was headed.
“Shoot me. With one of those silver bullets.” She swallowed hard. “I’m holding the transformation back through force of will, but I can’t last much longer.”
“They bit you.” He recalled the "cuts" on her back, ragged. He hadn't gotten a great look at them, Doc kept shouldering him out of the way.
“They did.” She nodded. “You can’t let me turn, Cyrus. I know too much, it would be a disaster.”
“Ok. When, where?”
“Whyn’t we just head out to the cemetery right now? That way you won’t have to carry me far.” She started to lever herself out of the chair, arms shaking.
“You’re sure about this?” He stood.
“Yes.” She took several deep breaths. “The first transformation is always hardest, especially if you’re fighting it, and once it happens I won’t be able to control myself. I don’t know how long I can keep fighting it.”
“Is there any other way?” He watched her try to gather herself.
“No.” She looked up at him. “Not unless you’ve got one hell of a sorcerer stashed somewhere.”
“Not that I’m aware of.” He shook his head.
“Then, no. Please.” She unbuckled her gunbelts and held them out to him. “These are yours. So’s everything in the wagons. There’s books and journals outlining how to do what I did, several ingots of silver to make bullets, swords, axes, knives…”
“Wait. You think I’m gonna start hunting these things?” Cyrus, taking the gunbelts, bobbled them, nearly dropping them before he recovered.
“At the very least you’ll want to protect your investment here.” She smiled, hair damp with sweat, drops of it sliding down her face. The shaking got worse.
“I’m not a good man. Don’t you need good men to fight evil?” Cyrus still held the gunbelts in his hand, skin prickling.
“Good men can’t do this job.” She touched his arm, and her fingers felt hot. “Because sometimes you have to shoot scared 12 year old girls in the head to keep them from turning into something that wants to eat your guts. You’ll need to make decisions. You’re not a ‘good’ man, but you’re practical. A survivor.”
He stared at her for a long silent moment.
“Let’s do this, then.” He nodded, slung the gunbelts over his shoulder and offered her his arm.
She leaned on him out to the graveyard, while she told him how to get into all the secret compartments in the wagons.
“Cyrus, I really wish we’d met under other circumstances.” She turned to face him once they’d made the cemetery. “You’ll make a hell of a Hunter.”
“Thanks, Pearl.” He raised one of her guns, cocking it. “Me, too. You’re one fine looking woman.”
“Thanks, Cyrus.” She closed her eyes, and her lips moved silently for a moment. She licked her lips. “Please.”
He shot. Hit her between the eyes, and she dropped.
“Rest in peace, Pearl.” He walked over to where the gravedigger's shovel stuck out of the ground, grabbed it, and started digging.
There is a longer version of this story where Pearl's working partner, who is one hell of a sorcerer, shows up in the nick of time. But this was the original ending.