When all the varmints of hell and worse are snappin’ at your boot heels, trust the gun that’s shomer shabbos.
It’s Merkabah Rider.
But what the heck is it?
It’s a weird western.
OK but what’s a weird western? It’s essentially a western with….well, weirdness thrown in. Ghosts, demons, zombies, (my umbrella term is ‘ghoulies’), anything bizarre and out of place. Like Cowboys and Aliens or Jonah Hex. But better than that. More like Grim Prarie Tales or High Plains Drifter, if you’ve ever seen those.
So what’s weird about the west of Merkabah Rider (and that’s Mur-ka-baa Rider)?
Set in 1879-1882, the series follows The Rider, a Hasidic gunslinger tracking the renegade teacher who betrayed his mystic Jewish order of astral travelers across the demon-haunted Southwest. As part of his training and vows, the Rider has given up his true name to prevent his coming under the influence of malevolent spiritual forces. He drapes himself in protective talismans and carries a silver and golden gilded Volcanic pistol covered in glyphs and Hebrew symbols, and sometimes wears a pair of blue glass lenses, mystically embossed with Solominic seals that allow him to see into the spirit world.
Now, the world of Merkabah Rider is the historical west, and the Rider sometimes bumps into real people. He’s met Doc Holiday, Geronimo, and Wyatt Earp’s future wife, to name a few. The average joe cowboy doesn’t know jack about angels and demons beyond what the local street preacher rings through his hangover on Sunday mornings.
But the thing about the Merkabah Rider series is, everything’s real. Every bump in the night campfire story, every hell and damnation sermon the pulpiteers throw down, and worse things. Things people only whisper about. Terrible, cosmic things.
If you’ve read any HP Lovecraft, you know what I’m getting at there. Things worse than the devil and demons. Old things from before the time of Creation.
And though it sounds absurd, it’s played completely straight. Like Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane meets Joe R. Lansdale’s Dead In The West. In fact, although they’re novels, they’re presented as collections of sequential, novella-length ‘episodes’ to evoke the old Zebra and Lancer pulp paperback collections.
OK, but what’s with the Judeo-Christian stuff, Ed?
Well, a lot of people have reservations about that. They like their Judeo-Christianity separate from their Native American shamanism, separate from their Lovecraft Mythos.
That ain’t the way of the real world, and that ain’t the way of Merkabah Rider. I like my chocolate in my peanut butter.
But if you have reservations that I’m not playing fair, that I’m biased or I’m preaching God or pushing an atheist agenda, or you’re still just not sure what it’s about, in the words of LaVar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it.
Read some reviews, culled from around the web.
Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter
“Riding out of the Old West comes the Merkabah Rider, a Hasidic gunfighter who owes his provenance as much to the nasty inhabitants of Elmore Leonard’s westerns as he does his piousness to Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane. This highly original episodic series breathes new life into the overworked western with tight action, inglorious heroes, and unpredictable plots.” – Weston Ochse, award-winning author of SEAL Team 666 and
“The Rider is a fabulous character, in all senses of that word, and Erdelac’s a fabulous writer. High Planes Drifter contains all the demons, ancient gods, and gunplay a lover of weird westerns could want, but
told from an angle no one else has touched before. Where else are you going to find a Jewish Doctor Strange packing heat in the old west? Nowhere, that’s where. This is crazily entertaining stuff.” – Daryl Gregory, award-winning author of Pandemonium and Raising Stony Mayhall
Merkabah Rider 2: The Mensch With No Name
And here’s the first three pages of Merkabah Rider: Tales Of A High Planes Drifter….
The Blood Libel
The Merkabah Rider passed into the San Pedro River valley on a narrow, stony path through the Huachucas. It was an old road white men and Mexicans wouldn’t use. They dreaded the Apache purported to skulk in the rocky places drunk on tiswin, plotting the rape of virgins and devising new ways to make the blue bellied soldiers scream.
The Chiricahua shunned it too, reckoning it too arduous and remote a pass. Some among them believed it sank into the heart of the mountains and passed through the shadowy worlds of wicker and web where only Coyote dared, to finally open up into the dark place where it was said the ravenous thunderbirds of old nested, dreaming lightning dreams, and stirring at the smell of a man’s terror.
The Rider had encountered none of these things. Thirst and shifting stones and steep paths were all the evils that plagued him. As for the shaggy white onager he led, perhaps it had sensed all manner of evils.
It had balked and shivered enough times on the journey, but whether that was from preternatural unease or inborn wild ass stubbornness, he couldn’t say.
He had spent the day passing through the foothills and trekking across the flat anvil of the baking valley floor in the direction of the river. There was a town there, haphazardly arranged as if some ungainly colossus had tripped over the ribbon of water and spilled the clapboard and adobe buildings from its arms, then stumbled on.
DRUCKER & DOBBS MINING COMPANY
WELCOMES YOU TO DELIRIUM TREMENS
The letters were carved into a plank sign bolted to a boulder set along a road, which appeared quite suddenly. It was a rutted swath that slashed through the rough tumble of ominous saguaro and mean dry brush and drove down the center of the town. The Rider followed it.
It was on a dying, red sun Friday when he passed into the town; only the black gummed growl of a scrawny, long-nippled cur that slid from underneath the shadows of a boardwalk, welcomed him. Though there were people locking up stores and heading for their homes, they greeted him in much the same way as the bitch, but in their own, more insidious manner.
Curtains drew. Fleshy lips moved behind lily hands. Whispers carried words he’d heard a hundred times before in towns better than this. Questions both bemused (What do you make of that?) and pregnant with fear-born threat (Who does he think he is?). Speculations (Some kinda Mennonite? A Mormon? A Mexican-Mormon?). Then, probably from some drummer who had been out of the valley once or twice— maybe as far as Tombstone or Bisbee he heard another; Jew.
That was all it took to tip the murmurs spilling. They came gushing over curled lips like the salivation of wagging dogs smelling a kill. They crawled up, pestilent and envenomed, from the throats of shopkeepers—men in aprons, who if they knew whom they were addressing, would have hunkered down behind the counters of their stores and averted their gaze like peons before a passing maharajah. They squeezed through the gritted yellow teeth of posturing men with wide belts and big pistols who thought themselves hard, but would have scrabbled with their fingers in the earth to hide their eyes from all The Rider had seen.
The words meant nothing to The Rider. They were just more words.
Christ-Killer. Heeb. Dirty Jew.
He knew what he was to them, in his strange black garb and his long, blue-black beard and curled payos. He knew they looked on the four white fringes of his prayer tallit with nervous hatred. He was alien to them who knew only mine dust and horse stink, faded calico, and the red faced brimstone clamor of the gospel peddler. He was a weird apparition that stoked distrust in the most neighborly breast. He was a strange mirage shimmering down the desert road, salted in moon dust and smelling of foreign lands.
As he passed a sundry, where a fat clerk leaned in the doorway speaking with a rail thin man in overalls who straddled a barrel, he heard the clerk say;
“One of them. And right down the middle of the street! Someone should…”
The Rider paused in his walk, feeling the onager nuzzle against the small of his back and snort, wondering why they were lingering when water was so near. The Rider fixed his stare on the fat clerk, looking at the man’s pinched face over the golden rims of the blue tinted spectacles he wore. The clerk gave pause, and his eyes flitted to The Rider’s frock where he saw the gilded pistol strapped to his waist. Those eyes met The Rider’s once more, then darted with sudden interest to a sign on the wall—an advertisement for Proven Gall Bitters, which promised a relief to habitual feminine maladies.
Neither the clerk nor the barrel rider spoke again till he was gone.
The Rider was a man who understood the root of fear, but would not suffer its fruits.
If you’re convinced, head over to Amazon and give Merkabah Rider a shot…print or ebook.
And please, love it or hate it, tell somebody or write a review.