Jeff Carter’s Criterion

Hey gang, turning my blog over to old friend and fellow author Jeff Carter, so he can tell you about his superhero novel Criterion from Crossroads Press, the fine folks who recently reprinted my novella collection With Sword And Pistol….

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Hello Erdelmaniacs, thanks for having me back in the dusty confines of Delirium Tremens. I’ve been thinking about some of the influences on my new ‘Grimdark’ superhero novel Criterion.

The story for Criterion evolved from my short story ‘From the Barrel of a Gun’, featured in Humanity 2.0 alongside Ed’s outstanding novel ‘Perennial’. My main characters in both that story and my book are unpowered mortals.

Of all the sidekicks, cheerleaders and mascots, ‘Cadet’ is the only non-powered character that tries to fight super-humans. As you can imagine, this leads to a lot of good ol’ fashioned ass whoopings.

While I enjoy an unstoppable character like Kick-Ass or Dark Man, those guys are like Terminators. They feel no pain.

I love a character that feels pain and presses on. Deckard in Bladerunner. Brendan Frye in Brick. Bruce Willis in Die Hard and Last Man Standing. Frodo in Lord of the Rings. There are so many examples I won’t bother to list them all, because I’m here to tell you about the best.

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Ninja Scroll (1993), alongside Akira, was among the first wave of ‘japanime’ to hit American nerds and melt their faces. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about Jubei Kibagami, a wandering swordsman dragged into murderous intrigue. Caught between a group of monstrous killers and a government spy, he will stop at nothing to protect a woman he can never have.

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Jubei’s got mad skills, but he is only human. He bleeds, breaks bones and loses teeth. If he has a superpower, it’s the ability to fight through the pain.

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Ninja Scroll is noir fiction. Jubei suffers as a pawn of powerful forces. He suffers because he does the right thing. He suffers because he fights for love.

“The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armor. He’s dirty and he does his best to deny the fact that he’s a hero the whole time.” – Frank Miller

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As Manga has so often taught us, if you ain’t spittin blood you ain’t trying.

I hope I have captured some of that struggle in my new book. If you like desperate heroes, over the top action and freaky villains you should check out Criterion.

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Criterion is available now in print and digital here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

Smashwords

iTunes

Crossroad Press

 

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Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 8:49 am  Comments (1)  
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Infinte Jest and Most Excellent Fancy: Saying Goodbye To Geoffrey and Toys ‘R Us

“Let’s go to Toys ‘R Us, Dad!” my just-turned eight year old daughter Willow suggests for probably the thousandth time, as I head for the bathroom for a shave and a shower before embarking on the grocery shopping.

“With what money?”

“I’ve got money!” she calls from the living room.

Oh right, the birthday last Saturday.

“I’m going for groceries. Not today.” And then, I don’t know why, as an afterthought, I mention, “You know, it’s closing.”

“What?” says my daughter.

“What’s closing?” asks my wife.

“Toys ‘R Us. All of ‘em. Here in America anyway. Probably everywhere.”

A quick shower later, I come out dressed to find Willow with her arms crossed over the back of the couch, head down….crying as if her kitten just died.

My wife’s furiously researched my claim on Google and confirmed it.

And in that moment I realize what a momentous thing is happening, and how much this toy chain has meant to me and to my children.

How many times have I found my errands hijacked by my son or my daughter because I’ve relented, letting them squander their hoarded birthday and holiday dollars on blind bags of Shopkins or Nerf blasters or some other inscrutable plastic doodad. It’s not the most responsible thing, but every time, I’ve thought back to my own childhood and the instances in which I harassed my Aunt Vicky or my mom and dad to make an unscheduled (or in my case, carefully plotted) detour to Toys ‘R Us, just to look, just to look, promise, so I know what to ask Santa for, so I know what to put on my birthday list and then maybe McDonald’s (for hamburgers with no pickles, onions), knowing full well that I could maybe make a convincing case for a single GI Joe or Star Wars figure if I make them understand it’s the last one on the shelf and it might not be around come September or December.

It’s very likely why I’m no good with money to this day.

So, I relent again, because I realize it’s probably the last time. The stores could be closing in a couple weeks.

“Here,” says my wife, pushing a couple of coupons into my hand.

Willow’s already got her coat on.

Every year since their birth the kids have gotten little postcards from Geoffrey the Giraffe congratulating them on another year alive and exhorting them to come celebrate at the REAL happiest place on Earth.

Sorry Disneyland, I’ve never had to contend with the beating sun or a two hour line pressed by sweaty bodies or overpriced and underwhelming food during an afternoon at TRU. It’s just a fact. I’d take the white air conditioned action figure aisles over the line to get on Star Tours or Pirates of The Caribbean any day of the week.

Maybe growing up in the Midwest far from Disneyland or Disneyworld has something to do with it. Disney is an event, like going to a cousin’s wedding or a water park. It’s a strange place, full of strange people, a rush to do everything, see everything, you can’t completely relax. Toys ‘R Us is a familiar staple, close as a trip to the park.

A rainy day in the Valley becomes the last day for two die hard Toys ‘R Us fans to visit the undisputed mecca of childhood avarice. Child’s World, KB Toys, just flashes in the pan. The sun could never set on Toys ‘R Us, I thought. But here we are.

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We present my daughter’s birthday coupons at the service counter, where a pleasant kid blows up a mylar birthday balloon weighted with an orange plastic Geoffrey token, a paper pink birthday girl crown, a little sealed Lego package with a tiny buildable birthday cake I’ll probably skewer my foot on later, and a squishy dog-toy style birthday cake with Geoffrey’s face on it.

In the time it takes to outfit my daughter with all this, three adults come to the counter and ask if it’s true, that Toys ‘R Us is really closing.

“Corporate tells us tomorrow,” the kid helping me says.

“Just wanted to know,” says one guy.

“That’s been happening all day, hasn’t it?” I say.

“All day.”

My daughter goes skipping off, balloon bobbing, to nab items from the shelves and meticulously run them back and forth to the price scanners until she’s figured out how to get the most for her twenty one bucks (and a couple dollars over no doubt), leaving me alone to wander the aisles and hazy childhood memories.

Something else you just can’t do at Disneyland.

Vince Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy is playing jauntily over the speakers and I’m thinking of how my grandkids may never know the simplicity of the Peanuts, and now, they will definitely never know the fun of turning the corner and ogling an end cap of Castle Greyskull playsets, or trying the action on a boxed Nerf gun, or straddling a display bike, or sitting in one of those electric pedal cars.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe live in an apartment and it’s the closest any of them have ever come to owning one. My grandfather bought me a green jeep with an orange seat and a white plastic pedal I could mash and send myself burring up and down the driveway of our suburban home till the juice ran out and I had to plug it into the outlet on the outside of the garage. The big goggle eyes moved when you turned the wheel. It matched his own green Jeep, a vehicle he’d always wanted since he’d driven one in World War II, which the family pitched in and bought him one birthday.

I always preferred the blue manual pedal car with the red fenders and the yellow steering wheel my Dad got me though, as I could kick furiously at that thing and send it flying up and down the concrete. A quick jerk to the right and I’d go spilling into the grass like The Fall Guy.

Both got from Toys ‘R Us.

I never had this birthday club thing my kids were enrolled in, but I remember going on a Saturday morning to see the characters in the aisles. These were special events announced in the sale papers (which, like my kids, I would pore over every week, especially before Christmas, circling what I wanted with a black marker, sometimes adding an amount of stars commensurate to the intensity of my desire for that particular toy). He-Man and Skeletor, Princess Leia and Luke, Hawk and Destro from GI Joe, Papa Smurf. I remember I brought a pad of paper to get their autographs but He-Man, in his head to toe latex muscle and mask, didn’t have the fine manipulation ability to use a pen.

Normally shopping trips to Sears or Montgomery Wards or something with my parents, I’d go in the single toy aisle and hang out till they were done. Toys ‘R Us, I was there for me. It was the only time the role was reversed.

I remember walking through corridors of GI Joe and Star Wars toys. I remember the 1983 going to the end cap to rifle through the pegs for a brand new Luke Skywalker in his black Return of the Jedi costume. Found a buddy from school already there, Tommy O’Connor – literally the first or second kid I’d met in Kindergarten. We were both there for the same thing, and while our parents stood nearby with their hands in their pockets, muttering to each other, Tommy and I meticulously combed those pegs for what felt like a solid half hour….till he found it. The only one they had.

And he handed it to me.

I keep wondering if his dad was really pissed.

I lost touch with Tom through high school but ran into him again at a community college and reconnected. Kenner I think, had just started remaking Star Wars figures. I went to Toys ‘R Us and got him a Jedi Luke for his birthday.

I decide I’m going to get one last TRU gift for each of my kids who aren’t there, and I decide it has to be the ‘last one’ of whatever it is. The inevitable liquidation sales haven’t begun yet, so the bargain hunters and the mercenary second hand dealers haven’t descended on the store to pick the shelves clean yet. That’ll happen some cold morning at five AM, like crows alighting from the trees on fresh roadkill. I don’t like to think about it.

I quickly find something for my son Auggie. Playmobil has been a standard toy line in our household. The girls have a castle on their bureau packed with characters with from every genre you can think of. Cowboys and samurai and African shamans cavorting with princesses, vampires, robots, fairies, and veterinarians. My son has a new Ghostbusters firehouse, the first license the German toy manufacturer has ever pursued (which now has me worried – why have they felt the need to pursue a license, and did they choose Ghostbusters because they thought the female version was going to blow up? Have they taken a hit? If I lose Playmobil so close to Toys ‘R Us and Prince, I’m through). I find a single Egon Spengler in his Ghostbusters 2 regalia. The only one I’ve ever seen, the only one on the shelf. So that goes in hand.

For my thirteen year old, who’s moved past the halcyon days of Toys ‘R Us touring and now wants nothing more than iTunes cards to buy more Babymetal tracks for her i-whatever, anime and comics, I find a single Kamala Khan/Miss Marvel action figure. We’ve been getting the tradepaperbacks from the library and she loves the character. Easy pick.

By this time Willow has found me half a dozen times via Daddy-Daughter echolocation (“Dad?” “Yep!” “Dad?” “Yep!” “Dad?”), appearing each time with her arms full of pink and purple boxes. At one point she has the brilliant idea to exploit a buy one get one free brand offer, buying a five dollar toy to get a twenty five dollar playset for nothing, until I explain to her that’s not how the deal works, and she slinks back to her machinations, slightly dejected but unbowed in her determination to wheel and deal.

And then I think, maybe I’ll just get something for myself.

Nothing big.

I head over to the Schleich section.

Oh you know what is, you’ve just forgotten, or you haven’t been to a Toys ‘R Us in a while.

It’s the little section situated between the toddler toys and the books (in the Burbank store anyway) where they keep the shelves of detailed rubber animals. Right next to the Animal Planet dinosaurs and the oversized dragons and yetis.

Schleich is mostly known, I guess for horses. My eldest daughter had a brief thing for them after she saw Spirit, that Dreamworks movie about the palomino in the old west with Matt Damon’s voice. You haven’t seen it? Go watch it now. It’s way better than I’ve made it sound.

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Schleich, another German toy company – they’re just the best – also makes beautifully detailed little rubber statues of practically every animal you can think of. I quickly find my favorites, tigers, wolves, orangutans, but there are plenty of them. They’re having a buy one get one at 40% off sale, so I could conceivably get two…and then I spy the peg of boxed Geoffrey the Giraffe figures by Schleich.

Geoffrey’s changed from the way he used to look when I was a kid. He was more childlike. They’ve smoothed him out, made him more cartoony.

The world of awesome began with a sky filled with stars and a very special giraffe. Geoffrey ™ learned his destiny was to bring fun to kids everywhere – and so, by following some magical stars – he found a new home, and new friends, at Toys R Us ™ Lean more about his journey at Toysrus.com/Geoffrey.

So says the legend on the back of the box, and it’s repeated in German, Spanish, Polish, French, and three other languages I can’t identify. One of them possibly Portuguese.

So that goes in hand.

I narrow my 40% off figure to a grinning, spotted hyena and a cool orange octopus. I go with the octopus.

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My daughter (“Dad?” “Yep!”) finds me. She has what she’s sure is twenty one dollars of toys ready for the checkout and is ready to go.

It turns out it’s twenty five dollars.

“Oh yeah. Taxes.”

I used that one too when I was a kid.

I snap one more pic of her outside the store. Can’t fit the whole sign.

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She giggles when she sees it.

“Toys.” Then, a little somberly as we cross the parking lot hand in hand for the minivan, which will soon be brimming with bags of groceries. “Where will the toys go to rest in peace now?”

“Huh?” I say.

“You know, they can rest in the packages. Nobody plays with them there.”

Ever since Toy Story she thinks of the secret lives of toys.

Who doesn’t?

I never thought I’d lament the passing of any international corporation, but here I am in the parking lot, squeezing my daughter’s hand, weighed down by nostalgia, looking over my shoulder at those rainbow letters and that backwards R like I’m leaving home, or an old friend.

I hear later that the demise of Toys ‘R Us might be the result of some slimy, walking clichésof hedge fund managers/venture capitalists playing the economic laws, saddling the company with insurmountable debt so as to make a killing off the bankruptcy in some way far beyond my ken (and my daughter’s Barbies). The usual creeps, out to make a buck off the backs of employees and patrons no matter what. It’s almost comforting to believe in some cabal of 80’s slicko Gordon Gecko villain bringing about the downfall of Toys ‘R Us, rather than admit to competition from the evil but undeniably convenient Amazon being to blame.  It’s likely both.

But if the hedge fund thing’s true….well, if ever there were Grown Ups, in the grayest, most detestable sense of the word, it’s gotta be these guys (Edit: https://boingboing.net/2017/11/30/merry-christmas-2.html) and (http://fortune.com/2018/03/09/toys-r-us-bankruptcy-why/)

As for me,

“I don’t wanna grow up,

I’m a Toys ‘R Us kid,

They’ve got a million toys at Toys ‘R Us that I can play with

From bikes to trains to video games, it’s the biggest toy store there is,

I don’t wanna grow up, ‘cause maybe if I did,

I couldn’t be a Toys ‘R Us kid

More-games-more-toys-O boy!

I wouldn’t be a Toys ‘R Us kid.”

Coming Soon….

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Published in: on March 14, 2018 at 9:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Wide Awake Is Live On Patreon

I’ve put up the exclusive short story for this month over on Patreon.

This time out it’s Wide Awake, a tie-in story to my superhero novel Perennial which unfortunately kind of came and went when Ragnarok Publications folded.

It’s about a put upon girl who commands a great power and is one shove away from unleashing it on her classmates when she falls in with a group of similarly gifted girls under the tutelage of a woman sworn to keep them safe.

But when a terrible force threatens the city, is being safe the right thing to do?

My daughter Magnolia created some of the characters in this one. I like it, and I hope you do to.

Remember, five bucks gets you access to this and over a dozen more stories, including two serialixed novellas not available anywhere else.

https://www.patreon.com/posts/wide-awake-is-17310087

Published in: on March 1, 2018 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ask Me Anything

I’m doing an AMA over here for the next three days, so go check it out if you’re inclined.

https://authorsama.amafeed.com/12-novels-12-screenplays-indie-big-four-and-self-published-author-ama-485440#c444782

Published in: on March 1, 2018 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

With Sword And Pistol Is Back!

Following the closure of Ragnarok Publications a couple of my books went out of print. Well, I’m happy to announce that my four novella collection With Sword And Pistol is back in print at Crossroads Press.

withswordandpistolhttps://www.amazon.com/Sword-Pistol-Edward-M-Erdelac-ebook/dp/B079ZLM7YD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519501090&sr=8-1&keywords=with+sword+and+pistol+erdelac

 

Published in: on February 24, 2018 at 11:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Amandla Ngawethu!

So I’ve been boning up on Black Panther in anticipation of the movie – have read the character’s two initial appearances in Fantastic Four, the Ta-Nehesi Coates run (too dry – didn’t care for it), Christopher Priest’s (innovative and cool but a little bit too pop culture-y at times for me), and now Reginald Hudlin’s (AWESOME). It inspired me to sit down this morning and write this.

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In Hudlin’s TPB there’s a really brilliant piece he wrote in the back, The Black Panther: A Historical Overview and Look To The Future, in which he writes –
“The Black Panther is the Black Captain America. He’s the embodiment of the ideals of a people. As Americans, we feel good when we read Captain America because he reminds us of the potential of how good America can be, if, of course, we have the convictions to live by the principles the country was founded on. As a black person, the Black Panther should represent the fulfillment of the potential of the Motherland.”
There’s a great exchange between King T’Chaka and a representative of a global economic conference in issue three…
Rep: Your Majesty, we’ll pay whatever price you set for your goods.
T’Chaka: They are not for sale until the spiritual advancement of the West catches up to their technological prowess. It would be irresponsible to share our scientific discoveries with you.
Rep: What? Are you calling everyone here irresponsible children?
T’Chaka: No. More like sullen teenagers who feel more mature than their behavior warrants. The fact that every conversation here is framed in terms of profit and power says it all…you could have made half these breakthroughs yourself, but there’s too much money to be made in misery. Why cure a disease when people pay for medicine? Why provide cheap energy when…
Rep: We get the point, T’Chaka. Heh. I’ve never met a socialist with a crown on his head before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything…
T’Chaka: Who gave you permission to use my first name?
Rep: I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend…
T’Chaka: I understand your frustrations in dealing with a black man who can’t be bought with a truck load of guns, a plane load of blondes, and a Swiss bank account, but hold onto what little class you have.
Rep: Your Majesty, I truly apologize…
T’Chaka: This meeting is over.
* * *
That scene really hit for me. It’s everything I hope the Black Panther movie is, and why I’m really nervous about it failing. Black Panther needs to be political as all hell, safeties off. I love that it’s on the cover of Time, and that people are excited for it. I love that it’s going to be a celebration of black culture, as Luke Cage was, and I hope it lives up to the cultural touchstone people really want it to be. But I hope it goes a step further. I hope it inspires people. I hope it blindsides them with a truth they themselves suspected, but one that needed to come in under their wires somehow; that a nation becomes great when it cares for its people. I hope people come away thinking….”hmmm….that wouldn’t be so bad. Why don’t we have that? (and I don’t just mean the flying cars)”
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Ah, it’s a lot of hope to put on a Disney movie about a comic book character. Probably way too much.
But so what?

Wakanda is a sovereign nation unconquered, great because of its dedication to instilling pride in and bettering its own citizens with education and innovation, who holds its leader to a strict moral principle which then inspires them to emulate that principle themselves. There’s no want, no ignorance, no lack of compassion in Wakanda. In elevating one, all are elevated. Wouldn’t Wakanda be a great place to live? Couldn’t we come together to make Wakanda wherever we are?

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Published in: on February 11, 2018 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Rider Rides Again

It’s been HOW long since I posted here? Too long.

Well, here’s the cover art for the forthcoming re-release of my Merkbah Rider series – HIGH PLANES DRIFTER (yeah, I’m shortening the title a bit).  The artist is Juri Umagami (whose Instagram is HERE).

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Sharp-eyed fans will see this is a canny homage to the classic western that inspired the title, Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

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Wait till you see what we have planned for next book, The Mensch With No Name. I’d spoil it, but I’d never FORGIVE myself….

This first re-release will feature an additional little seen Rider story, The Shomer Express, and interior art by M. Wayne Miller who did the covers for my novel Terovolas and my collection Angler In Darkness.

Coming soon….

Published in: on February 9, 2018 at 3:12 pm  Comments (9)  
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The 112th Birthday of Robert E. Howard

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard, the Texas author who is best known for creating the character Conan the Barbarian.

I owe a great debt to Howard for inspiring my own work, and so, as every year, I celebrate here on the blog with an excerpt from the man’s writing.

This year I decide to eschew the usual blood and thunder and post a bit of Howard’s humorous work, something I don’t think people recognize as much.

I used to read this aloud to my wife while she was pregnant, and it used to induce such belly laughs I would momentarily fear an early trip to the hospital.

This is from A Gent From Bear Creek, which features Howard’s Lil Abner-esque character Breckenridge Elkins. In this excerpt you get a bit of Howard’s trademark action, but his sense of folksy humor’s really on display here. I love the various turns of phrase – reminds me of Mark Twain at times.

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After I’d gone maybe a mile I heard somebody in the trail ahead of me, and peeking through the bushes, I seen a most pecooliar sight. It was a man on foot, going the same direction as me, and he had on what I instinctly guessed was city clothes. They warn’t buckskin nor homespun, nor yet like the duds Mister Wilkinson had on, but they were very beautiful, with big checks and stripes all over ’em. He had on a round hat with a narrer brim, and shoes like I hadn’t never seen before, being neither boots nor moccasins. He was dusty, and he cussed considerable as he limped along. Ahead of him I seen the trail made a hoss-shoe bend, so I cut straight across and got ahead of him, and as he come along, I come out of the bresh and throwed down on him with my cap-and-ball.

He throwed up his hands and hollered: “Don’t shoot!”

“I don’t want to, mister,” I said, “but I got to have clothes!”

He shook his head like he couldn’t believe I was so, and he said: “You ain’t the color of a Injun, but–what kind of people live in these hills, anyway?”

“Most of ’em’s Democrats,” I said. “But I ain’t got no time to talk politics. You climb out of them riggin’s.”

“My God!” he wailed. “My horse threw me off and ran away, and I’ve bin walkin’ for hours, expecting to get scalped by Injuns any minute, and now a naked lunatic on a mule demands my clothes! It’s too dern much!”

“I cain’t argy, mister,” I said; “somebody’s liable to come up the trail any minute. Hustle!” So saying I shot his hat off to encourage him.

He give a howl and shucked his duds in a hurry.

“My underclothes, too?” he demanded, shivering though it was very hot.

“Is that what them things is?” I demanded, shocked. “I never heard of a man wearin’ such womanish things. The country is goin’ to the dogs, just like pap says. You better git goin’. Take my mule. When I git to where I can git some regular clothes, we’ll swap back.”

He clumb onto Alexander kind of dubious, and says to me, despairful: “Will you tell me one thing–how do I get to Tomahawk?”

“Take the next turn to the right,” I said, “and–”

Jest then Alexander turned his head and seen them underclothes on his back, and he give a loud and ringing bray and sot sail down the trail at full speed with the stranger hanging on with both hands. Before they was out of sight they come to where the trail forked, and Alexander taken the left branch instead of the right, and vanished amongst the ridges.

I put on the clothes, and they scratched my hide something fierce. I thinks, well, I got store-bought clothes quicker’n I hoped to. But I didn’t think much of ’em. The coat split down the back, and the pants was too short, but the shoes was the wust; they pinched all over. I throwed away the socks, having never wore none, but put on what was left of the hat.

I went on down the trail, and taken the right-hand fork, and in a mile or so I come out on a flat, and heard hosses running. The next thing a mob of men on hosses bust into view. One of ’em yelled: “There he is!” and they all come for me full tilt. Instantly I decided that the stranger had got to Tomahawk after all, somehow, and had sot his friends onto me for stealing his clothes.

So I left the trail and took out across the sage grass, and they all charged after me, yelling stop. Well, them dern shoes pinched my feet so bad I couldn’t make much speed, so after I had run maybe a quarter of a mile I perceived that the hosses were beginning to gain on me. So I wheeled with my cap-and-ball in my hand, but I was going so fast, when I turned, them dern shoes slipped and I went over backwards into a cactus bed just as I pulled the trigger. So I only knocked the hat off of the first hossman. He yelled and pulled up his hoss, right over me nearly, and as I drawed another bead on him, I seen he had a bright shiny star on to his shirt. I dropped my gun and stuck up my hands.

They swarmed around me–cowboys, from their looks. The man with the star got off his hoss and picked up my gun and cussed.

“What did you lead us this chase through this heat and shoot at me for?” he demanded.

“I didn’t know you was a officer,” I said.

“Hell, McVey,” said one of ’em, “you know how jumpy tenderfeet is. Likely he thought we was Santry’s outlaws. Where’s yore hoss?”

“I ain’t got none,” I said.

“Got away from you, hey?” said McVey. “Well, climb up behind Kirby here, and let’s git goin’.”

To my surprise, the sheriff stuck my gun back in the scabbard, and so I clumb up behind Kirby, and away we went. Kirby kept telling me not to fall off, and it made me mad, but I said nothing. After an hour or so we come to a bunch of houses they said was Tomahawk. I got panicky when I seen all them houses, and would have jumped down and run for the mountains, only I knowed they’d catch me, with them dern pinchy shoes on.

I hadn’t never seen such houses before. They was made out of boards, mostly, and some was two stories high. To the north-west and west the hills riz up a few hundred yards from the backs of the houses, and on the other sides there was plains, with bresh and timber on them.

“You boys ride into town and tell the folks that the shebang starts soon,” said McVey. “Me and Kirby and Richards will take him to the ring.”

I could see people milling around in the streets, and I never had no idee they was that many folks in the world. The sheriff and the other two fellers rode around the north end of the town and stopped at a old barn and told me to get off. So I did, and we went in and they had a kind of room fixed up in there with benches and a lot of towels and water buckets, and the sheriff said: “This ain’t much of a dressin’ room, but it’ll have to do. Us boys don’t know much about this game, but we’ll second you as good as we can. One thing–the other feller ain’t got no manager nor seconds neither. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” I said, “but I’m kind of hungry.”

“Go git him somethin’, Richards,” said the sheriff.

“I didn’t think they et just before a bout,” said Richards.

“Aw, I reckon he knows what he’s doin’,” said McVey. “Gwan.”

So Richards pulled out, and the sheriff and Kirby walked around me like I was a prize bull, and felt my muscles, and the sheriff said: “By golly, if size means anything, our dough is as good as in our britches right now!”

I pulled my dollar out of my scabbard and said I would pay for my keep, and they haw-hawed and slapped me on the back and said I was a great joker. Then Richards come back with a platter of grub, with a lot of men wearing boots and guns and whiskers, and they stomped in and gawped at me, and McVey said: “Look him over, boys! Tomahawk stands or falls with him today!”

They started walking around me like him and Kirby done, and I was embarrassed and et three or four pounds of beef and a quart of mashed pertaters, and a big hunk of white bread, and drunk about a gallon of water, because I was purty thirsty. Then they all gaped like they was surprised about something, and one of ’em said: “How come he didn’t arrive on the stagecoach yesterday?”

“Well,” said the sheriff, “the driver told me he was so drunk they left him at Bisney, and come on with his luggage, which is over there in the corner. They got a hoss and left it there with instructions for him to ride on to Tomahawk as soon as he sobered up. Me and the boys got nervous today when he didn’t show up, so we went out lookin’ for him, and met him hoofin’ it down the trail.”

“I bet them Perdition _hombres_ starts somethin’,” said Kirby. “Ain’t a one of ’em showed up yet. They’re settin’ over at Perdition soakin’ up bad licker and broodin’ on their wrongs. They shore wanted this show staged over there. They claimed that since Tomahawk was furnishin’ one-half of the attraction, and Gunstock the other half, the razee ought to be throwed at Perdition.”

“Nothin’ to it,” said McVey. “It laid between Tomahawk and Gunstock, and we throwed a coin and won it. If Perdition wants trouble she can git it. Is the boys r’arin’ to go?”

“Is they!” says Richards. “Every bar in Tomahawk is crowded with hombres full of licker and civic pride. They’re bettin’ their shirts, and they has been nine fights already. Everybody in Gunstock’s here.”

“Well, le’s git goin’,” says McVey, getting nervous. “The quicker it’s over, the less blood there’s likely to be spilt.”

The first thing I knowed, they had laid hold of me and was pulling my clothes off, so it dawned on me that I must be under arrest for stealing that stranger’s clothes. Kirby dug into the baggage which was in one corner of the stall, and dragged out a funny looking pair of pants; I know now they was white silk. I put ’em on because I didn’t have nothing else to put on, and they fitted me like my skin. Richards tied a American flag around my waist, and they put some spiked shoes onto my feet.

I let ’em do like they wanted to, remembering what pap said about not resisting no officer. Whilst so employed I begun to hear a noise outside, like a lot of people whooping and cheering. Purty soon in come a skinny old gink with whiskers and two guns on, and he hollered: “Lissen here, Mac, dern it, a big shipment of gold is down there waitin’ to be took off by the evenin’ stage, and the whole blame town is deserted on account of this dern foolishness. Suppose Comanche Santry and his gang gits wind of it?”

“Well,” said McVey, “I’ll send Kirby here to help you guard it.”

“You will like hell,” says Kirby. “I’ll resign as deputy first. I got every cent of my dough on this scrap, and I aim to see it.”

“Well, send somebody!” says the old codger. “I got enough to do runnin’ my store, and the stage stand, and the post office, without–”

He left, mumbling in his whiskers, and I said: “Who’s that?”

“Aw,” said Kirby, “that’s old man Brenton that runs the store down at the other end of town, on the east side of the street. The post office is in there, too.”

“I got to see him,” I says. “There’s a letter–”

Just then another man come surging in and hollered: “Hey, is yore man ready? Folks is gittin’ impatient!”

“All right,” says McVey, throwing over me a thing he called a bathrobe. Him and Kirby and Richards picked up towels and buckets and things, and we went out the oppersite door from what we come in, and they was a big crowd of people there, and they whooped and shot off their pistols. I would have bolted back into the barn, only they grabbed me and said it was all right. We pushed through the crowd, and I never seen so many boots and pistols in my life, and we come to a square corral made out of four posts sot in the ground, and ropes stretched between. They called this a ring and told me to get in. I done so, and they had turf packed down so the ground was level as a floor and hard and solid. They told me to set down on a stool in one corner, and I did, and wrapped my robe around me like a Injun.

Then everybody yelled, and some men, from Gunstock, McVey said, clumb through the ropes on the other side. One of ’em was dressed like I was, and I never seen such a funny-looking human. His ears looked like cabbages, and his nose was plumb flat, and his head was shaved and looked right smart like a bullet. He sot down in a oppersite corner.

Then a feller got up and waved his arms, and hollered: “Gents, you all know the occasion of this here suspicious event. Mister Bat O’Tool, happenin’ to be passin’ through Gunstock, consented to fight anybody which would meet him. Tomahawk riz to the occasion by sendin’ all the way to Denver to procure the services of Mister Bruiser McGoorty, formerly of San Francisco!”

He p’inted at me, and everybody cheered and shot off their pistols, and I was embarrassed and bust out in a cold sweat.

“This fight,” said the feller, “will be fit accordin’ to London Prize Ring Rules, same as in a champeenship go. Bare fists, round ends when one of ’em’s knocked down or throwed down. Fight lasts till one or t’other ain’t able to come up to the scratch when time’s called. I, Yucca Blaine, have been selected as referee because, bein’ from Chawed Ear, I got no prejudices either way. Air you all ready? Time!”

McVey hauled me off my stool and pulled off my bathrobe and pushed me out into the ring. I nearly died with embarrassment, but I seen the feller they called O’Tool didn’t have on no more clothes than me. He approached and held out his hand like he wanted to shake hands, so I held out mine. We shook hands, and then without no warning he hit me a awful lick on the jaw with his left. It was like being kicked by a mule. The first part of me which hit the turf was the back of my head. O’Tool stalked back to his corner, and the Gunstock boys was dancing and hugging each other, and the Tomahawk fellers was growling in their whiskers and fumbling with their guns and bowie knives.

McVey and his deperties rushed into the ring before I could get up and dragged me to my corner and began pouring water on me.

“Air you hurt much?” yelled McVey.

“How can a man’s fist hurt anybody?” I ast. “I wouldn’t of fell down, only I was caught off-guard. I didn’t know he was goin’ to hit me. I never played no game like this here’n before.”

Elkins_02_webMcVey dropped the towel he was beating me in the face with, and turned pale. “Ain’t you Bruiser McGoorty of San Francisco?” he hollered.

“Naw,” I said. “I’m Breckinridge Elkins, from up in the Humbolt Mountains. I come here to git a letter for pap.”

“But the stagecoach driver described them clothes–” he begun wildly.

“A Injun stole my clothes,” I explained, “so I taken some off’n a stranger. Maybe that was Mister McGoorty.”

“What’s the matter?” ast Kirby, coming up with another bucket of water. “Time’s about ready to be called.”

“We’re sunk!” bawled McVey. “This ain’t McGoorty! This is a derned hillbilly which murdered McGoorty and stole his clothes!”

“We’re rooint!” exclaimed Richards, aghast. “Everybody’s bet their dough without even seein’ our man, they was that full of trust and civic pride. We cain’t call it off now. Tomahawk is rooint! What’ll we do?”

“He’s goin’ to git in there and fight his derndest,” said McVey, pulling his gun and jamming it into my back. “We’ll hang him after the fight.”

“But he cain’t box!” wailed Richards.

“No matter,” said McVey; “the fair name of our town is at stake; Tomahawk promised to supply a fighter to fight O’Tool, and–”

“Oh!” I said, suddenly seeing light. “This here is a fight then, ain’t it?”

McVey give a low moan, and Kirby reched for his gun, but just then the referee hollered time, and I jumped up and run at O’Tool. If a fight was all they wanted, I was satisfied. All that talk about rules, and the yelling of the crowd and all had had me so confused I hadn’t knowed what it was all about. I hit at O’Tool and he ducked and hit me in the belly and on the nose and in the eye and on the ear. The blood spurted, and the crowd hollered, and he looked plumb dumbfounded and gritted betwixt his teeth: “Are you human? Why don’t you fall?”

I spit out a mouthful of blood and got my hands on him and started chawing his ear, and he squalled like a catamount. Yucca run in and tried to pull me loose and I give him a slap under the ear and he turned a somersault into the ropes.

“Yore man’s fightin’ foul!” he squalled, and Kirby said: “Yo’re crazy! Do you see this gun? You holler ‘foul’ just once more, and it’ll go off!”

Meanwhile O’Tool had broke loose from me and caved in his knuckles on my jaw, and I come for him again, because I was beginning to lose my temper. He gasped: “If you want to make an alley-fight out of it, all right. I wasn’t raised in Five Points for nothing!” He then rammed his knee into my groin, and groped for my eye, but I got his thumb in my teeth and begun masticating it, and the way he howled was a caution.

By this time the crowd was crazy, and I throwed O’Tool and begun to stomp him, when somebody let bang at me from the crowd and the bullet cut my silk belt and my pants started to fall down.

I grabbed ’em with both hands, and O’Tool riz up and rushed at me, bloody and bellering, and I didn’t dare let go my pants to defend myself. I whirled and bent over and lashed out backwards with my right heel like a mule, and I caught him under the chin. He done a cartwheel in the air, his head hit the turf, and he bounced on over and landed on his back with his knees hooked over the lower rope. There warn’t no question about him being out. The only question was, was he dead?

A roar of “Foul!” went up from the Gunstock men, and guns bristled all around the ring.

The Tomahawk men was cheering and yelling that I’d won fair and square, and the Gunstock men was cussing and threatening me, when somebody hollered: “Leave it to the referee!”

“Sure,” said Kirby. “He knows our man won fair, and if he don’t say so, I’ll blow his head off!”

“That’s a lie!” bellered a Gunstock man. “He knows it war a foul, and if he says it warn’t, I’ll kyarve his gizzard with this here bowie knife!”

At them words Yucca fainted, and then a clatter of hoofs sounded above the din, and out of the timber that hid the trail from the east a gang of hossmen rode at a run. Everybody yelled: “Look out, here comes them Perdition illegitimates!”

Instantly a hundred guns covered ’em, and McVey demanded: “Come ye in peace or in war?”

“We come to unmask a fraud!” roared a big man with a red bandanner around his neck. “McGoorty, come forth!”

A familiar figger, now dressed in cowboy togs, pushed forward on my mule. “There he is!” this figger yelled, p’inting a accusing finger at me. “That’s the desperado that robbed me! Them’s my tights he’s got on!”

“What is this?” roared the crowd.

“A cussed fake!” bellered the man with the red bandanner. “This here is Bruiser McGoorty!”

“Then who’s he?” somebody bawled, p’inting at me.

“I’m Breckinridge Elkins and I can lick any man here!” I roared, getting mad. I brandished my fists in defiance, but my britches started sliding down again, so I had to shut up and grab ’em.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 11:45 am  Comments (1)  
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The Six Demon Bag Podcast!

I have been remiss in not mentioning that I’m on a podcast!

The Six Demon Bag Podcast, with my friends, fellow writer Jeff Carter, editor Ryan Gerossie and videogame know-it-all Andrew Weary.

We stick our hands in a bag and pull out random topics on movies, video games, writing, all that kind of thing. Sometimes we’re even amusing.

We have just begun our second season, so take a listen. New episodes most Sundays. Link added to the right under ‘Other Ways To Find Me.’

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Published in: on January 10, 2018 at 9:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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