Coming at you this month on Amazon Kindle is my short story, The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues.
Born of my love for Chicago and Delta blues (and the Lovecraft Mythos), The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues tells the story of aspiring bluesman King Yeller and his partner Harp Elkins, who head to the infamous crossroads to make a deal with the devil for fame and fortune….but wind up calling forth something much, much, worse. Lovecraft meets the blues, with an appearance by the great Howlin’ Wolf and The Black Pharoah himself.
Here’s an excerpt –
“What say, boys?” said a voice, in that slow backwoods drawl that make a black man freeze.
I didn’t need to see the color of that truck behind them whose headlights was shinin’ on us to know it was a blue Chevy.
The .44 was in the glove box back in the Catalina. Maybe Yeller had his old pocketknife he’d been usin’ as a slide on the National, but I didn’t have nothin’ but my fists in my pockets. I got to feelin’ a cold sweat under my scalp and it run down my neck when I seent the long somethin’ each of ‘em had in they hands. Axe handles, maybe shotguns.
“What you boys doin’ out here so late?” the man asked.
“Nothin’, sir,” I said. “Just out walkin’.”
“You two sweethearts?”
“We ain’t the ones parked out by the side of the road in the dark,” said Yeller.
I hissed him quiet.
“Where you from, boy?” the man said to Yeller, the meanness fairly bubblin’ up in his throat.
“I told you he wasn’t one of our niggers, Boyd.”
“I had him pegged for a Kansas City pimp with them clown clothes he’s got on,” said Boyd.
“That a guitar, boy?” said the first man.
Yeller didn’t say nothing. It was plain what it was.
“Pick us out a song,” said the first man. Then he turned to me. The moon was shinin’ on his hair grease and the shotgun I seent in his hand. “And you, you gonna dance for us. No fancy nigger dance. Just let’s see an old time shuffle.”
Yeller put hands to his strings and began to strum out Dixie. I had been in this kinda situation before. They wasn’t nothin’ to do but pick up my knees like he said.
“You are murderin’ that song, ain’t you, boy?”
Boyd walked up next to his buddy and passed him a glass bottle of something that smelled like it ought to be in the Catalina’s tank.
“I told you a nigger can’t play Dixie,” said Boyd.
“Well, he’s a bluesman. Ain’t that right? Ain’t that why you’re out here? Come to the crossroads to make your deal?” said the first man. “I guess niggers in the north is just as spooky as they are down here. Listen here, boy. Only devil you’re gonna find tonight’s right here in front of you.”
He was steppin’ closer to Yeller while he said this, and he poked Yeller’s National with the end of a shotgun.
Yeller nearly dropped the guitar, and when he stooped to catch it up, he all of a sudden let out a crazy yell and brought it up fast by the neck. The steel body caught that white boy full on the jaw and put him on his back. Yeller didn’t waste no time, but put his foot on the shotgun and fell to beatin’ that cracker’s head in. Every hit made that National twang and echo. It was the sweetest music I ever heard.
Boyd went to help out his buddy, but I threw my fist into his gut, heard the wind come outta him in one big hush. He dropped what he had in his hand, just a baseball bat. I kicked him in the balls and started stompin’ on his back.
He cried and called to Jesus and said he couldn’t breathe. I felt his ribs cave in. I knew we was goin’ wind up lynched for it, but it felt good.
Yeller come up next to me and in the light of them headlights I seent his National was dented up bad and covered in blood. The chords was sprung and curled all over like a madwoman’s hair. He had blood on his shirt and his hands.
His eyes was dead serious and he kicked Boyd over on his back. I could see his chest swellin’ and fallin’. He was the one I seent look out of the truck cab earlier that day.
“Whatchoo waitin’ on, Harp? Finish this bitch off.”
I backed away, my limbs all shakin’.
“You ain’t never kill nobody?”
“S’awright, brother,” he said, patting my shoulder. “I got this.”
Boyd was moanin’ and whinin’ like a kid.
I backed away. Yeller lifted up the guitar over his head in both hands like a caveman and he brang it down on Boyd’s face.
That same second, the headlights went out. I guess the battery had died on the Chevy. I heard what happened to Boyd though, felt it, wet on my shoes.
It was dark out in that road. The moon had got behind a black cloud, and lookin’ up at the sky, I couldn’t see the stars. Now that is peculiar on a Delta night.
We heard this pipin’ in the night, like a flute playin’, or maybe it was just the wind blowin’ through some reeds in the ditch.
They was somethin’ else standin’ in the road. I seent it, or the shape of it, behind Yeller, and I give out a yell, ‘cause what I seen didn’t make no sense. It was like a bush had sprung up in the road, but it moved, and not random, like a blowin’ bush will do. Every part of it breathed and twisted on its own, like droopin’ willow branches if they was to come alive, or a nest of black snakes. They was a shine among all that mess, too, like teeth, or eyes, or both.
In that minute Yeller spun, all them movin’ shadows sort of snapped into place like a shape out the corner of your eye, and a thin, dark man stood there. You couldn’t see his face, or his clothes, just his outline.
“Hit ‘im, Yeller!” I shrieked.
Yeller pulled back to swing, but then he lowered his busted guitar and shook his head.
“You him, ain’t you?” Yeller whispered.
The shadow man dipped his chin.
Yeller giggled like a kid at Christmas and looked back at me, eyes bugging.
“God-damn! You wasn’t lyin’, Harp!” he said. “This the man hisself!”
He turned back to the shadow man, and I looked around for that shotgun. But it was no use. It was too powerful dark in the road.
“Well, Mr. Nick, I’s here. King Yeller’s what they call me,” he said, slappin’ his chest, “and I done paid your price double. I ‘spect that ought to cover my friend here.” He looked back at me, and even though I couldn’t see ‘em, I could feel that shadow man’s eyes on me over Yeller’s shoulder.
I nearly fell over Boyd’s body backin’ away.
“Nossir, I didn’t take no hand in this. It wouldn’t be right.”
Yeller looked disappointed, maybe a little scared. “Well, your loss, cuz.”
He turned back to the shadow man.
“Awright, Scratch. Whatchoo say? You give me credit? Double the ante, double the pot.”
The shadow man didn’t say a word.
“I’m gonna need a new guitar,” Yeller said, holdin’ up his bloody National.
The shadow man reached out and took the guitar from Yeller. He run his black fingers up and down the neck, and pretty soon a sound come out of it, a crazy, distorted rift, like a hunnerd guitars playin’ at once – not the kinda sound you could tickle out no busted guitar.
“Tha’s a swell trick,” said Yeller. His voice was crackin’. He took out a shaky Kool and lit one, and in that minute I seent the shadow man’s face in fire. He wasn’t white, but he wasn’t no black man neither. All I got a good look at was his bald head and them big black eyes, sort of foreign lookin’. My daddy thought the picture show was godless, but one time when I was eleven, he took me to the Walthall in Greenwood to see The Ten Commandments. The shadow man’s eyes was just like the pharaoh’s in that movie.
The shadow man turned and walked off the road with Yeller’s guitar, crankin’ out them weird, lonesome sounds.
Yeller looked back at me.
“Don’t go with him, Yeller,” I just ‘bout begged.
“Be right back,” he promised, tiltin’ his hat over his eyes, grinnin’.
He went off with the shadow man. They went down the ditch and off into the cotton. That music echoed all up and down that black road and put a harrow in my heart. It made me feel like the dark sky was a mouth comin’ to close on the earth, like we was all ‘bout to be chewed up and swallowed into some cold, deep place worse than hell, some place even the angels wouldn’t go.
It got so bad I fell down on my knees and pressed my hands hard to my ears. I cried there, real, gushin’ tears. I felt so lonely, like that patch of dirt road beneath me was the only piece of land there was left, and I was fallin’ down a deep hole with no walls or bottom to be seent. I couldn’t summon no prayers.
I don’t know how long I knelt there, but all of a sudden the pickup’s headlights come back on, bright. I brushed my eyes and stood up, blind, still afraid.
Yeller was standin’ at the edge of the light. The stars was out again and the moon was bright over his head, as if they’d all been hidin’ from the shadow man. The moonlight was gleamin’ kinda green on the face of Yeller’s National.
Yeller’s eyes was half closed and he was shinin’ all over with sweat. He looked like a horse addict. That rascal light was gone from him.
“Let’s get outta here, Harp,” he said, and he went to where the Catalina was.
“What ‘bout these…,” I started to say ‘peckerwoods,’ but when I looked, they wasn’t no bodies in the road, just a couple butter yellow and black burn marks. They was a smell in the air like to make me sick, like a open sewer stuffed with dead dogs. I followed him to the car.
$2.99 on Amazon Kindle. More ebook formats to follow on www.damnationbooks.com.