Where Thunder Dwells In SNAFU: DEAD OR ALIVE

Cohesion Press’ latest entry in their long running SNAFU series of action horror anthologies is called DEAD OR ALIVE, is weird western-centric, and includes my story WHERE THUNDER DWELLS, a sorta-sequel to my old short story IN THUNDER’S SHADOW which appeared wayyyyy back in Chaosium’s EDGE OF SUNDOWN anthology.

In this, a band of bank robbers kidnap an old Apache storekeeper and his daughter and force him to lead them to a secret pass through the Huachuca Mountains, where the old man has previously secreted Bronco Apache outlaws on the run. They are pursued by a murderous Sheriff and his posse, more intent on killing them than capturing them alive. But something up in the pass waits. Something neither of the warring factions anticipated….

Here’s an excerpt.

“Believe I’m ready to settle up,” said Lieutenant Coleson, reaching for his wallet. “Storm’s comin’ in over the Huachucas and I wanna get back to the post.”

Haayashi nodded, her thoughts drifting to her husband, Ves. She hoped he’d seen the thunderheads too and was planning to get back accordingly.

“Think she’ll like it?”

She smiled at the young officer. “Oh I expect she will, Lieutenant. Be a nice surprise.”

Haayashi finished tying up the parcel of gingham just as the lieutenant’s forehead blew open and splattered her shop apron and the counter with dark red brains that quivered like a litter of newborn things shuddering at the cold.

She backed against the shelf, rattling the hard rock-candy jars as the cavalryman, still smiling, slumped to his knees, bashed his chin on the countertop, and tumbled out of sight.

The gingham had been for a new dress for the lieutenant’s wife. He would never see her in it now.

A scruffy N’daa man with a head of curly orange hair stood in the doorway, lowering a big pistol and grinning like a delinquent with a slingshot who’d just busted an upstairs window.

Haayashi rushed around the counter and made a grab at Coleson’s sidearm, but the N’daa headed her off and kicked her in the side so hard she tipped over the medicinal bottles stored there, smashing them to pieces.

She curled on the floor, gasping.

The orange-haired man took Coleson’s pistol, tucking it into the front of his pants.

Nach’aa, her old father, incongruous in his white man’s suit and spectacles with his long, slate grey hair spilling wild from beneath his broad red Apache headband, crept out of the backroom with his Whitney rifle. He would have killed the orange-haired N’daa if a Mexican hadn’t stepped inside and shot her father’s leg out from under him, spoiling his aim. As it was, the N’daa cried out and fell over Coleson’s body, clapping a hand to his side.

“Jesus Christ, Swifty,” a third man said in disgust, pushing past the Mexican. This one had long, greasy yellow hair and a rattlesnake skin hat band. Snaker Pista. He had been in her father’s store a few times, buying bullets and tobacco and trying to bully him into purchasing his rotgut moonshine whiskey. Every time Snaker had come in it had been like letting a wild coyote wander around the store. Nach’aa would lean his Whitney against the backroom door frame at his approach. Only when Snaker left did her father put it back on the wall.

“We need the old man alive,” Snaker said, glaring at Swifty rolling on the floor.

“Pelado shot him,” Swifty groaned. “The old bastard nearly put me under. God, I got a hole in me!”

“That is the aim of a bullet,” Snaker said matter-of-factly. “You sling ‘em around so damn regular don’t be surprised when somebody pitches one your way.” He looked to the Mexican called Pelado as if for an explanation.

“It was just the leg, Snaker.” Pelado shrugged. “He’ll live.”

Snaker tipped his hat to Haayashi and stepped over Coleman’s corpse. “Hello, Haayashi. Good to see you again. Where’s your husband?”

“Out hunting you,” Haayashi growled.

“You underestimate your man. If Ves Payne was after me, why, he’d be right there,” Snaker said, throwing his thumb over his shoulder. He grabbed a fistful of her long black hair and yanked her head up to look him in the eye. “Where is he?”

“Out at the Lazy S, looking for rustlers,” Haayashi hissed. “I just figured it was you.”

“Ain’t no two-bit cow thief, girl. Bigger and better things.” He spat on the floor and dragged her behind him to stand over her father. “Dagotee, y’old bandit. How’s tricks?” He let her go, reached down, and smacked the old man’s face.

Nach’aa made no sound. The back of a hand was like a mother’s kiss to a Mimbreño Apache who had ridden with Victorio.

Haayashi got up on one elbow and strained to watch as Snaker pulled her father up by the shirt front.

“Is it bad?” Swifty whined to Pelado. “Am I dyin’?”

“We’re all dyin,chavo,” said Pelado, disinterested. He had picked a can of peaches off the shelf and chopped the top off with the machete he kept tucked in his sash. “Hey,” he laughed, as he put the can to his lips, “maybe you ain’t so swift, ah?”

“You bastard!” Swifty half hissed, half sobbed through his teeth as he got to his knees and clenched his eyes at the pain. There was a dribbling hole in his side, just above his belt. “Oh Lord, Lord… am I done for?”

“Haayashi’ll plug your hole, Swifty, just don’t get tiresome,” Snaker said, not even sparing him a look. “First, girl, you get on over here and fix up your daddy’s leg. He’s got a long ride ahead of him.”

Haayashi rose and limped over to the boxes of linen bandages, testing the stitch in her side with her breath. Pelado’s eyes followed her over the tipped can of peaches.

Snaker stood back as she knelt and bound up her father’s leg. It was bad. The bone was shattered just below the knee, the dirty bullet still lodged in there somewhere. The lead might get black in his veins and find his heart if they waited too long to treat it or saw it off. She looked into her father’s dark eyes.

He read her prognosis, unblinking,

“I know you won’t talk at me or Pelado, old man,” Snaker said, “even though I know you understand. That’s part of the reason Haayashi’s gonna be goin’ with us.” He idly took out his own pistol, spun it on his finger so it came up cocked, and pressed the muzzle to the top of her head.

She stiffened at its touch, locked eyes with her father. His black irises flared like a pair of gun bores. Haayashi shook her head. If her father made a move, they’d both die.

“This is the other reason,” Snaker said. “You sabe?”

Nach’aa looked up at Snaker and bobbed his chin once.

Haayashi turned her gaze to the outlaw. “Where are we going?”

“I know you ain’t as tame as you let on,” Snaker said to her father. “Just ‘cause you scouted for the yellowlegs and married you a Dutch widow and took to runnin’ this store. I know you funneled them Bronco Apaches up through the Huachucas and down into Old Mexico on the sly. You’re gonna show us the way, old man. You’re gonna do it, or you’re gonna bear witness to the slow death of your daughter. Comprende?”

Nach’aa answered in Apache, even, and without a hint of distress or pain, as if explaining the passage of the seasons to a child. “I will take you, white-eye. I will take you where I took the Broncos – to The Place Where The Thunder Dwells. If you harm my daughter, I will take you there all the sooner.”

Haayashi frowned. Of course she knew her father had helped the renegade Apache, the Broncos who would not surrender to Crook and board the train to Florida. He’d done it for years. Sometimes it was with bullets and feed and bandages from her mother’s store. Other times they had come under the cover of night, half-starved with their bandoliers empty and the hooves of their tired horses wrapped in buckskin, and the white law thirsty for their blood. Some would come asking for the secret way to sanctuary, the hidden stronghold, The Place Where The Thunder Dwells.

After a few low words, Nach’aa would set out with them in the dark to show them the way. Always by morning he would return alone. Massai and The Apache Kid, who were still being blamed for every act of murder and thievery from here to Flagstaff, had been taken to The Place by Nach’aa. He had never spoken to her about it, nor to her late mother, nor to any other man so far as she knew.

“He said he will take you,” Haayashi said. Snaker laughed. “He said a lot more than that, but OK.”

Pick up SNAFU DEAD OR ALIVE here –

Published in: on November 8, 2022 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

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