My story In Thunder’s Shadow is now appearing in Edge of Sundown, a new weird western anthology from Chaosium and editors Brian Sammons and Kevin Ross.
The table of contents includes –
John Shirley, “The Claw Spurs”
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Cemetery Man”
Kelda Crich, “Jiang Shi in Chinatown”
Don Webb, “Innocents Abroad”
Cody Goodfellow, “Forked Tongue”
Christine Morgan, “The Buzzard Women”
Bruce L. Priddy, “The Flute Players”
Andrew Kelly, “Silver Wolf”
Mark Onspaugh, “Whisper”
Jeffrey Thomas, “The Dark Cell”
John F.D. Taff, “The Two of Guns”
Lawrence Berry, “Red Shadows in Terror Canyon”
Brian M. Sammons, “Feast of Famine”
Michael G. Szymanski, “Son of the Wild Moon”
Pete Rawlik, “Drake Takes a Hand”
Sam Stone, “The Puppet Master”
C.L. Werner, “Uncle Gunnysack”
Eric Red, “The Buzzard”
The cover is by the ridiculously talented Daniele Sera, who did the cover to my western novel Coyote’s Trail.
I had also read a bit about the fascinating 1880’s Bone Wars waged by prominent American paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. Marsh and Cope waged total war against each other’s careers, racing across the American West to claim the latest and greatest fossil discovery, resorting to bribery and outright sabotage in their personal bids for supremacy.
My story follows an intrepid but inexperienced Yale University student traveling to the Arizona mining town of Delirium Tremens in search of bones for OC Marsh. My readers will recognize Delirium Tremens of course. This is a couple years before the Rider and company descend on the town. The student soon takes up with a wild-eyed old game hunter named Neb, who swears he can lead the student to something much more exciting than mere bones….
“Hell, Mr. Pabodie,” Neb said, passing the fossil back (it swiftly disappeared into its swaddling in the cushioned depths of Pabodie’s knapsack), “that thing’s older’n I am. I figured it was fresh bones you was out after.”
“Well,” Pabodie said, allowing himself a snicker, “we’d be hard pressed to find fresh bones. I’m afraid this species died almost eighty million years ago.”
“Naw,” Neb said, waving his weathered hand and sipping his potion. “I seen one, ‘couple ‘o months back.”
Pabodie smiled slowly.
“I hardly think…”
“I said I seen one,” Neb said, plainly challenging him to voice his doubt again.
Pabodie shook his head, but said nothing.
Neb set aside his cup and took out his tobacco and makings.
“Dan Spector down at the Moderado promised me fifty dollars gold if I could catch him a live bear for a bear garden he wanted to build out back of his place, on account of the Thursday night cockfights over at the Mexicans’ down the street was cuttin’ into his business. I’d heard tell of black bears high up in the Huachucas where the conifers grow, so I got me a cage and a string of goats. ‘Spent a couple weeks up there till I got one.”
Neb finished rolling a cigarette and lit it. The match glow shined in the hollow of his eye socket, but did not penetrate its depths. Pabodie’s attention was drawn to it. It was like peering into the end of a gun. The wide black iris of his intact eye hardly looked any different. Pabodie knew then that he was sharing his fortunes with a madman, for this was no greening session; what the hunter told next, he sincerely believed.
“I’m hitchin’ the bear cage up to my mules, when of a sudden, this big shadow comes up in front of the sun, cools everything down. Even the bear looks up. And the noise! Sounded like a hunnerd widows screamin’ all at once in the belly of a lion.”
He planted the cigarette in the corner of his lips and held out his arms for emphasis.
“Swooped down and picked up that bear, cage and all, just about ripped my mules out of their traces.” He pantomimed a rifle shooting. “I cut loose on it with old Mazeppa, but it took a high grain load like a buffalo cow takes note of a mosquito’s peter. Flew way up, off over the mountains.”
He threw up his hands and blew smoke.
“Cost me my gold and the price of the cage. ‘Had to sell off my mules. Been lookin’ for a way to get back up there and go after it. Then along you came, all providential like. What I figured was, it was a thunderbird like the ‘Paches talk about. You call it a terra-whatsit, whatever you want, but,” he shrugged, “same thing. You’re welcome to all the bones we can carry back, Mister Pabodie. I want somethin’ else…”
Pabodie’s smirk had spread wider throughout the story. Neb presently noticed it and frowned deeply beneath his bushy mustache.
“You still disbelieve me.”
“Well…,” said Pabodie, not wanting to give offense and thinking swiftly of a placation. “What you saw was most likely some sort of condor. For instance, the California gymnogyps has a thirteen foot wingspan…”
“Its wings stretched fifty feet if they were an inch. You think I’m talkin’ about some goddamned buzzard?” he exclaimed, the whiskey on his breath beating upon Pabodie like heat from an open furnace. “I ain’t touched in the head, though by that smarmy goddamned look, you think so. Dan Spector gimme that look too. Him and all them goddamned drunkards in the Moderado, when I told ’em what happened. I been huntin’ up and down this land for goin’ on twenty years, Mister Pabodie. If I say I seen a goddamned thunderbird, who in the hell are you to…”
Neb’s tirade was cut short by the sound of thunder like the reverberant crashing of a gargantuan washtub tumbling across the sky. Outside, Pabodie’s horse and the mules screamed.
“They’re afraid of the thunder?” Pabodie asked anxiously as Neb drew up his rifle case from the corner of the tent.
Neb threw open the case and bought out the big Sharps rifle he affectionately called Mazeppa.
“They’re afraid of somethin.'”
He pushed a long bullet into the breech of his rifle as lightning turned the tent walls blue. Another avalanche of thunder exploded over the empty land.
The rain jarringly ceased its incessant pattering on the canvas, as if someone had dammed up the flow in heaven. The animals outside whinnied their anxiety. One of the cries abruptly altered in pitch and rose above the rest. It was one of the mules, braying like Pabodie had never heard an animal do before. It was a prolonged, harsh sound, as of a woman being murdered slowly.
“One side!” shouted Neb.
Pabodie stared as Neb jammed his battered hat on his head and went out into the silver flecked darkness. The lantern threw a shaft of light on the bucking animals. Pabodie’s horse and the remaining pack mule strained against their tethers on the tall saguaro cactus to which they’d been tied, tripping in their hobbles to get away.
Of the second mule, there was no sign.
Then Pabodie narrowed his bespectacled eyes and perceived the missing mule’s braided tether still fastened around the trunk of the saguaro, pulled taut under its curved arms, trailing mysteriously into the dark sky like a Hindu rope trick.
The wind was tremendous, threatening to buckle their shelter. The rain was still driving all around. Yet it did not strike their tent, or the horses, or the ground encompassing their small camp, as if a great umbrella hung overhead.
Then there was a second tremulous flicker of lightning. The camp lit up like a photographer’s studio.
Pabodie caught a glimpse of a massive shape suspended overhead, a huge, black shadow whose bulk shielded them from the rain like a tarpaulin. For a minute Pabodie thought that was just what it was –a large revival tent canvas uprooted by the tempest, hovering overhead by some unlikely trick of the converging winds. Dangling from the middle of the gigantic shadow was the missing pack mule, bugging out its eyes in terror.
Something clutched it by the spine. It hung limp as a kitten in its mother’s mouth.
Even as the sky went dark again, Pabodie knew what it was. The Kingsport boy in him who had waded hip deep into the churning ocean imagining legendary beasts and cities beneath the waves with all the desperate faith of one born out of time let out an exultant scream that rang in his book and data scarred brain. Though that mature part of him that had attended two universities and sobered through the years as a teetotaler of wonder curled up in fear and bewilderment, the wide eyed boy in him gripped what he all too briefly beheld above the camp in both hands and guzzled the sight until drunk. This was something neither Marsh, nor Cope, nor any stodgy old ditch digging professor had ever seen.
This was his alone.
Edge of Sundown is on sale now!