In Thunder’s Shadow Now Appearing In Edge Of Sundown

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.

edgeofsundown

jun07_tombstonesflying_250My story, In Thunder’s Shadow was inspired by a supposed 1880’s newspaper article printed in the Tombstone Epitaph describing the discovery of a pteranadon corpse by Arizona cowboys.

Cope and Marsh

Cope and Marsh

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….

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AsF6s“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.

pterodactylus (1)“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.

11-800Then 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.

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Edge of Sundown is on sale now!

http://www.amazon.com/Edge-Sundown-Brian-M-Sammons/dp/1568820798/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1438125768&sr=8-1&keywords=edge+of+sundown

The Wood Of Ephraim in Sword And Mythos

swordandmythosMy Lovecraftian sword and sorcery story The Wood Of Ephraim appears in Sword And Mythos, a beautiful new book from Innsmouth Free Press featuring stories from the ever lovin’ Willie Miekle, my friend and master of steamfunk/sword and soul,  Balogun Ojedate, Maurice Broaddus, Graham J. Darling, Paul Jessup, Nadia Bulkin, Bogi Takacs, Orrin Grey, Diana L. Paxson, Adrian Chamberlain, Thana Niveau, E. Catherine Tobler, Nellie Geraldine Garcia-Rosas, and Greg Yuen, and featuring essays by G.W. Thomas, Paula Stiles, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who is even now bringing you She Walks In Shadows, an all-female author anthology of Lovecraftian fiction.

Set during the reign of King David, The Wood Of Ephraim is a retelling of the Biblical account of the death of David’s rebel son Prince Absalom. While fleeing David’s men, Absalom’s long and lustrous hair was famously caught in the low hanging branches of a tree. He was discovered by David’s high general, Joab, who hated Absalom’s guts over various slights in the past, and promptly slain.

ms-KingConan-15I suppose indirectly this story takes place in the universe of my Merkabah Rider series, which posits the existence of the Outer Gods as being which existed in the chaos prior to the creation of the physical universe, and directly references an idea put forth by one of the characters in MR, that the Old Ones (in particular, Shub Niggurath) were unleashed on the earth in Noah’s time, and once again, unwittingly, by King David himself….

But it’s also a sword swinging adventure/ survival horror story of the type I absolutely loved to read in my teenaged years, as penned by Robert E. Howard, and probably takes a bit of inspiration from a King Conan comic (#15) I read and re-read as a kid (and also, just a little bit, Xenophon’s Anabasis). It features the Gibborim – David’s legendary hand picked band of elite warriors, who were the ancient Hebrew equivalent of the Argonauts and Robin Hood’s Merry Men wrapped into one.

This is a great book with some excellent, diverse stories and settings, ranging from Africa to Albion. I love what I’ve read of it so far.

Here’s an excerpt from my own offering.

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absalom_doreAt their approach the aspect of the hanging man grew clear. The ostentatious purple cloak, better suited to the court than the battlefield, the handsome mail, the golden spangles adorning the thin, struggling arms, the rich, jewel studded sandals ten feet off the ground.

Prince Absalom’s grimacing face was partly obscured in the tangle of branches and his own famously long and lustrous hair, which was drawn tightly across his eyes, likely a result of his own efforts to extricate himself.

They came to stand immediately below him in the road. Some of them smiled to see the unfortunate traitor so lucklessly suspended by the chief object of his own vanity.

Joab laughed aloud.

“It seems your pretty locks have caught you up, O prince,” he remarked.

“Shall we pluck this fruit down for you, General?” roared Ira ben Ikkesh.

“Let it ripen!” shouted Hezro.

“Yes,” laughed Gareb, “it’s yet too bitter for the general’s plate!”

“Perhaps we should leave it here to rot,” Elez suggested in all seriousness. “Or divide it amongst us.”

The laughter died down at that. All eyes went to Joab.

Naharai frowned.

“No,” said Joab. “We will cut him down.” He looked back at Zalmon. “The king’s orders are clear.”

“Yes master,” said Zalmon, nodding his approval and glancing at Naharai, who smiled broadly, vindicated.

Joab looked up at the prince, kicking and whimpering in the branches.

“Don’t worry about sparing his lovely hair, men,” said Joab. “He left me once with a bare field because I didn’t come quickly enough when he called. Now we’ll leave him stubble-headed because he didn’t come running when his father bade him.”

Zalmon and two other men moved off the road, intending to scale the tree and hack through bough or hair.

Then Jeribai the charioteer called out from behind.

“Wait!”

The three Gibborim stopped and looked back.

Naharai felt a chill then, as something wet splashed his bare arm. He looked down to see a perfectly round spot of blood, followed quickly by another.

“Look to his face!” Jeribai urged, pointing up at Absalom, his eyes bugging.

absalomThe men on the road moved around to Jeribai’s vantage to get a better look. Naharai backed away, smearing the blood down his arm.

They saw that the spindly fingers of the tree branch were hooked into the corners of Absalom’s clenched mouth, which oozed blood.

For a moment Naharai wondered why Absalom suffered the intrusion as a simple movement of his jaw could have easily dislodged the offending branches. But then he saw; they all saw. The tendons in his neck, the muscles in his jaw, were bunched in an effort to keep his teeth shut against the pull of some unknown force. There were ragged cuts in his lips. His breaths came out in terrified white puffs in the cold air. Before their eyes, his jaw wrenched open with a pop and he screamed.

Then with a hiss, something snaked its way rapidly up the branch, faster than any serpent, snapping twigs and shedding a few brown crackling leaves in its haste. White, shiny tubers circled up the base of every branch, converging on Absalom. They flowed down his throat, filling his gaping mouth with thick wood stuff, choking off his screaming.

The whole tree shuddered as if in ecstasy. A wet sucking sound came down to them. The slick tubers in his mouth quivered. The men staggered back at the perverse spectacle of the blindfolded prince dancing jerkily in the tree limbs. Something dark that was not blood filled the tubers spilling from his mouth, which were translucent enough to see the course it took back to the trunk of the great tree.

“Lord!” Naharai exclaimed. “What is it?”

Eliam looked about to answer when Joab commanded;

“Save the prince!”

Zalmon and the two other warriors at the edge of the road drew their swords and axes and hesitated, unsure whether to pursue their earlier course and climb the tree to reach Absalom, or hew it down instead.

“General!”

It was Eliam, now at Joab’s shoulder.

“It’s too late.”

Joab opened his mouth to protest, but then saw the weird wet stalks thrusting themselves further down Absalom’s throat, so far his neck bulged hideously outward beneath his chin.

He flipped the spear in his hand, drawing it back over his shoulder.

“No!” Naharai interrupted, pushing forward and grabbing Joab’s arm. “Remember the king’s edict!”

By now word had reached King David that the battle had ended in victory and that his son had fled. If Absalom were killed, no one would believe Joab had not murdered him.

But the general was a bull, and the strongest of them. With a mere shrug, Naharai clattered to the road.

youngJoab regained himself and cast the spear. It transfixed Prince Absalom through the chest, a killing blow. Yet still the prince thrashed and fought. His teeth ground loudly against the tubers, finally cracking off in his mouth under the strain.

“Spear!” Joab cried.

Jeribai took hold of one of the general’s spears and tossed it to Joab.

Joab ran Prince Absalom through a second time. The body lurched and sagged in the grip of the tree, blood spurting down the haft.

The flow of stuff from the corpse ceased. There was a sound like a cross between the groan of falling timber and a hysterical chittering.

Then before their eyes, the branches entwined about the dead prince’s head moved.

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Pick up a copy of the book here or on Amazon –

http://www.innsmouthfreepress.com/blog/tb-books/sword-and-mythos/