A new weird western anthology from Mechanoid Press, the guys behind Monster Earth, is out and features my short story The Akeldama Dig, about an ex-miner suffering from claustrophobia who agrees to tunnel into a rich man’s grave for a huge paycheck and runs into something….bad.
Born from my own mild claustrophobia (don’t get it in closets or elevators, but can’t be locked in a trunk), The Akeldama Dig takes place in (or underneath, really) Delirium Tremens, a town my loyal readers will be familiar with.
Here’s an excerpt.
“You’re a miner, Mr. Leslie?” Gallow repeated.
“I was,” Spiro said, warmed to the company by the drink, bad as it was. “I used to be foreman at the Copper Queen in Bisbee.”
“Used to be?” Gallow pressed.
“A shaft collapsed.”
He tried to keep the tremor out of his voice. He wasn’t sure if he had. Three little words hardly encompassed what had happened to drive him from his trade for good. First there had been a faraway groaning in the earth, then the timber had splintered and the whole shaft had shuddered and filled with dust and the tremendous clatter of stone. That reassuring pinhole of daylight far over his head had winked out like a pinched candle. He’d never known just how much he’d depended on that little light until it was gone. Hell, he had worked without sight of the surface since a boy fishing for lead in Galena, Illinois, but somehow he had come to think of that point of light in the Copper Queen as a guardian angel looking down. Seeing it go out was like seeing God turn away from you when you needed it most.
He may well have, for tons of rock had come down, enclosing Spiro like a firefly in a fist. He hadn’t been able to move. Could only lay there, feeling the cool subterranean air grow hot.
A few of the men who’d been near him had been trapped too. He could hear their muffled pleas turn to faraway screams as the desperate hours turned to lingering days and all reckoning of time faded like a drop of blood in water. He heard the subdued scratching of men trying to dig themselves free one bootless finger of dust and stone at a time. Then came a deep, perennial silence.
At some point, he knew not when, something animate had penetrated the inches of space around his head and begun to paw and scrape at back of his neck. This alien sensation had thrown him into a trembling panic which, while encased in tons of rock, made Spiro feel like a trapped bird. He had no notion of what it could be…some animal? It was hours before he deduced it to be a single disembodied hand belonging to a man buried very near him. Like a spider, that strange hand blindly groped his neck for hours, growing feeble and finally ceasing its labors, cooling and stiffening as the unseen owner suffocated. He had thanked God for that man’s death. Every stroke of the phantom fingers, every brush of broken, bleeding nails against his sweaty nape had raised his small hairs and got him whimpering.
His head pounding, heart beating only intermittently in his sinking chest, he had prayed in his last moments that a rock might slip and flatten his skull, putting an end to his anguish. When the stone above his face had shifted and light had broken over him on the third day, he had nearly torn through his rescuers to get at the cool air. After a precarious ride up the rope, he had whirled and flapped his elbows, dancing and gibbering hoarsely like a madman. They told him later he had bit the men who tried to restrain him.
Once he had been strong enough to stand again, he straightaway resigned and put miles between himself and his would-be grave. He hadn’t even stayed to learn the fate of his comrades.
But now every night was like the time in the shaft anew. He couldn’t bear to sleep beneath a roof. He awoke sweaty and thrashing beneath bedclothes. Whenever he closed his eyes for any period, his breaths grew short and sharp, his heart hammered, and all he saw behind his eyelids was the lid of a stone coffin. He had to drink himself insensible or go to the point of collapse just to sleep.
Featuring stories from James Palmer, Josh Reynolds, Tommy Hancock, Morgan Minor, and Barry Reese, Strange Trails can be picked up right ‘chere for about nine bucks.
Not bad for all that.