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The Weird Wild West (The Weird and Wild Series), страница 1

 

The Weird Wild West (The Weird and Wild Series)
 


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The Weird Wild West (The Weird and Wild Series)


  The Weird Wild West

  Edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw

  eSpec Books LLC

  Stratford, New Jersey

  PUBLISHED BY

  eSpec Books LLC

  Danielle McPhail, Publisher

  PO Box 493,

  Stratford, New Jersey 08084

  www.especbooks.com

  Copyright ©2015 eSpec Books LLC

  Interior Art Copyright ©2015 Jason Whitley

  ISBN (eBook): 978-1-942990-05-5

  ISBN (trade paper):978-1-942990-01-7

  “Abishag Mary” by Frances Rowat. © 2015 Frances Rowat.

  “Blood Tellings” by Wendy N. Wagner. © 2015 Wendy N. Wagner.

  “Ruin Creek” by Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin. © 2015 Gail Z. Martin

  and Larry N. Martin.

  “Via Con Diablo” by Bryan C. P. Steele. © 2015 Bryan C. P. Steele.

  “Rattler” by R. S. (Rod) Belcher. © 2015 R. S. (Rod) Belcher.

  “Rocky Rolls Gold” by David Sherman. © 2015 David Sherman.

  “Son of the Devil” by Jonathan Maberry. © 2015 Jonathan Maberry.

  “Mungo Snead’s Last Stand” by Robert E. Waters. © 2015 Robert E. Waters.

  “Frank and Earnest” by Tonia Brown. © 2015 Tonia Brown.

  “From Parts Unknown” by James R. Tuck. © 2015 James R. Tuck.

  “Sundown” by Liz Colter. © 2015 Liz Colter.

  “Fifteen Seconds” by Scott C. Hungerford. © 2015 Scott C. Hungerford.

  “Redemption Song” by John Hartness. © 2015 John Hartness.

  “Grasping Rainbows” by Diana Pharaoh Francis. © 2015 Diana Pharaoh Francis.

  “The Faery Wrangler” by Misty Massey. © 2015 Misty Massey.

  “Haven” by Ken Schrader. © 2015 Ken Schrader.

  “Eighteen Sixty” by Faith Hunter. © 2015 Faith Hunter.

  All rights reserved. No part of the contents of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.

  All persons, places, and events in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, places, or events is purely coincidental.

  COVER CREDITS

  Steampunk Skull on Parchment

  © AlienCat - Fotolia.com

  Brown leather textured background with side light.

  © Costin79 - Fotolia.com

  Silhouette of a horse from a tree © nutriaaa - shutterstock.com

  Graphic elements © mhatzapa - shutterstock.com

  Copy Editor: Greg Schauer

  Interior Design: Sidhe na Daire Multimedia

  www.sidhenadaire.com

  Acknowledgements

  There are so many people to thank for making this book happen—Danielle Ackley-McPhail of eSpec Books, our great Kickstarter backers, and all the incredible authors and artists who agreed to be a part of the show. And a nod of thanks to each other—we three couldn’t have asked for better partners!

  Misty: Most of all, thank you to Todd and Bleys, my wonderful guys, who always believe in me even when I think I should give up and go live in a cave. I couldn’t do it without you.

  Emily: I would also like to thank Oliver for being my support, my sounding board, and my friend. Without you, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I love to do!

  Margaret: Be careful what you wish for, like an anthology of weird wild west stories. I can never say thank you enough for the support and encouragement of family and friends. And for my daughter Emily, who inspires me to be better. Namaste, y’all.

  Dedication

  This book is dedicated to the memory of Dr Luther R. Zehner and Frances T. Zehner, who lived on and served the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota for three years and were adopted into the Lakota Tribe in 1950.

  Their legacy lives on through their daughter, Gail Z. Martin.

  Table of Contents

  Abishag Mary

  by Frances Rowat

  Blood Tellings

  by Wendy N. Wagner

  Ruin Creek

  by Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin

  Via Con Diablo

  by Bryan C.P. Steele

  Rattler

  by R.S. Belcher

  Rocky Rolls Gold

  by David Sherman

  Son of the Devil

  by Jonathan Maberry

  Mungo Snead’s Last Stand

  by Robert E. Waters

  Frank and Earnest

  by Tonia Brown

  From Parts Unknown

  by James R. Tuck

  Sundown

  by Liz Colter

  Fifteen Seconds

  by Scott Hungerford

  Redemption Song

  by John G. Hartness

  Grasping Rainbows

  by Diana Pharaoh Francis

  The Faery Wrangler

  by Misty Massey

  Haven

  by Ken Schrader

  Eighteen Sixty

  by Faith Hunter

  About the Authors

  The Weird Wild West Stakeholders

  Abishag Mary

  Frances Rowat

  The pirate made landfall at midnight in the dry stretch of the midwest, and staggered forward until dawn. The sun rose behind her to gild the land, and she followed her shadow forward, more or less, until it puddled at her feet. The air was crisp with heat, and the uneasy weight of the treasure she had stolen dragged at her heart.

  Each step she took left a wet bootprint on the ground. When she stopped to gather her bearings, judging the sun or the wind or the lay of the land, a puddle would begin creeping sulkily out from under each sole.

  Her name was Abishag Mary, and she walked into an idea of the West.

  When her shadow was starting to bleed out behind her again, she crested yet another hill and stumbled down toward a cabin, although not the kind she was used to. Despite the distance she’d walked, she hadn’t found her land legs, but that was part of the curse; the sea was always and ever two steps behind her, waiting to fill the air with roaring wet breath. So Abishag Mary was a stranger to land, and when she saw a small square block with no deck or hull below, it took her a minute to find the word ‘cabin’.

  She’d had a better cabin, once. The windows had been larger.

  A woman came out, cast-iron pan in hand, frown on her sun-weathered face. She stopped when she saw the pirate, and the two women stood that way a long moment; Abishag Mary with her feet planted wide and her hands a little akimbo for balance, and the woman with the frying pan half-raised as if a shield, staring frankly over the round black circle of it.

  “Where did you come from?” the woman said after a moment.

  “The sea out east.”

  The woman’s eyes were storm-brewing grey. They measured out Abishag Mary, weighing her white-as-salt hair against her walnut-shell skin, all rumpled and weathered by years at sea and now dried into something that’d never be smooth again. They took in the salt-stained boots and the travel-grimy clothes and the wide hat. And the saber on one hip, balancing out the pistol on the other. It was a very odd pistol to see in the West, a great thing of black iron and redwood chased with bright brass inlays.

  They weren’t sharp enough to see the treasure Mary carried, and that suited Mary fine.

  “You mean me harm?”

  “No ma’am.” Abishag Mary was no saint of any kind, but she was footsore and hungry and not minded to start a fight. And the woman’s eyes were less like clouds brewing a storm and more like the sea under those clouds, and i
t touched something in Mary’s heart to see them.

  “Well,” the woman said, “suppose you can visit, then. I’m Grace O’Regan, and this is my home.”

  The inside of the cabin was neat and dim, floored with split planks. Mary’s boots left footprints, but not wet ones. Only setting foot on land proper could bleed away the sea creeping up toward her heart.

  “You often get people stopping by?”

  “Not like you,” Grace O’Regan said. “But I prayed for help, and I guess you’ll do.”

  Mary looked out one of the windows. The gold and brown land was as wide as any sea she’d seen, and on the horizon were low rising foothills, blue with distance.

  “Well,” she said, “I could stand to do a little good, measure of my deeds. Afore we turn to what help is it you’re needing, where the hell am I?”

  “New Mexico.”

  Mary blinked and stared out of the window again. She’d been many things, but landlocked hadn’t ever been one of them.

  Still and all, perhaps it wasn’t the worst place to be, given how she’d left things with the sea. They were on bad terms.

  ~*~

  “Jack came out here,” Grace said over a thin meal. None of it tasted of fish or coconuts, and Mary was tearing through it. “He had a land grant, for settling; he worked it pretty well, the first two years. He’s a family friend, and things were hard, back in Boston. So I came out here and we were married.”

  Grace hadn’t prepared a third plate or left anything in the pot.

  “What happened?”

  “It was a bad year,” Grace said. “Not enough rain. And a long winter. He went to town, in spring, but he never came back.” She scraped the spoon around the edge of her plate. “I walked out there, a week later. They said he’d been heading back, but...” She shrugged. “Where’d you come from?”

  “I was shipwrecked,” Mary said. It was true, if not all the truth. “We’d been searching for a—jewel. And we found it, but a storm came up and battered my ship to pieces in the cove, and all hands on it as well. I went inland. I was there... Not sure how long. It wasn’t a very big island.”

  “Does that matter?”

  “There wasn’t much to eat.”

  “Oh,” Grace said. She hesitated, then pushed the meal’s bread toward Mary, who set aside her cleaned plate and set to.

  “It was peculiar,” Mary said. “I had to eat my bird. I was fevered. I thought I saw the sea, waves and woman all together. And my ship’s figurehead drowning in it, dragged down by my crew. Last there was a man with a sextant, with the Polestar in his left eye, who told me that if I kept walking I could get off the island. So I did, and came to be here, in the morning sun. And then I found my way to your front door.”

  Grace nodded placidly.

  “Grace,” Mary said after a moment, “when you prayed for help, who were you praying to?”

  Grace only shrugged, but Mary kept staring at her, jaw set. After a long moment Grace rose, and went to poking at the fire. “Whoever it was,” she said, “he sent you.”

  “What help are you needing?” Mary asked. “You can walk to town; you’ve got family, back in Boston. Wouldn’t they take you in?”

  “If I could make it back to Boston,” Grace said, “then yes, out of pity.” Her mouth grew ugly at the thought. “But pity or not, they can’t pay my passage home. Nor can I. If I can settle my claim to this land, I’ll at least have something.”

  “Who questions your claim?”

  “There’s a man called Hutchins,” Grace said. “The land’s worth something, even if the field’s gone fallow. If I’ve got a homestead here when the surveyor comes, Jack’s deed will be mine.”

  “A deed’s enough to keep Hutchins off?”

  Grace smiled a little; Mary could see the corner of it. “I think so.”

  “Well,” Mary said, “hoping you’re right. So Hutchins would see you off your land?”

  Grace nodded. “Offered to buy me out, and then made it clear I should move along. I promised I’d sell, to put them off, and I’ve spent the last three days out in the land, praying and hoping they’d think I was gone. But the surveyor will be here tomorrow, and I need to be here then; I can’t let Hutchins argue my homestead’s been abandoned.”

  “So it’s only one night you need help?”

  “I’m thinking so.”

  “Well,” Mary said after a moment, looking away from the hope in Grace’s grey eyes. “I’ll take dog’s watch—I’ll keep watch till dark. Don’t suppose you’ve got a drink?”

  “There’s the pump outside.”

  Mary sighed.

  “Tobacco?”

  ~*~

  Mary went out, leaving Grace within to load the long gun her husband had used for game. As soon as her feet crossed from floor to land, a puddle fell out of each boot, spreading and sinking into the dry earth. Mary imagined a cheated hiss, like the tide pulling back over rocks, as the sea that had been creeping up to her heart bled away.

  She paced once around the cabin, making sure her footprints weren’t growing wetter, then leaned back against the door to light a cigarette and take off her hat. It had a weather-bleached handful of tail-feathers in the band, bloody in the setting sun. She picked the Polestar out of the darkening sky, and it told her where she was, relative to the seas—farther west than she’d ever been before.

  She smoked her cigarette, and then another.

  The men came as dusk had near given way to dark.

  They were not carrying a lantern among them, but Mary could see them against the low stars. It was a clear night, and they made her out as they drew near enough to greet.

  She stepped forward, putting on her hat.

  “The hell’re you supposed to be?” said one of them.

  “Move on,” Mary said, reaching cross-body to rest her right hand on her saber’s hilt. There were three of them, each taller than her though one wasn’t quite as wide. They heard her voice and glanced between themselves; she guessed they hadn’t been expecting a second woman.

  The one who’d asked what she was supposed to be shrugged and came forward, putting a hand on her shoulder to push her aside. Mary whipped her saber out and he howled and scrambled back from its bite. There was heart enough to his bellowing that she guessed he’d live.

  The other men were cursing in shock. Mary was drawing a line in the dirt with the tip of her saber when they shot her.

  The guns roared as if there were a full dozen men firing on her, and Mary lit up with pain, holes boiling at face and shoulder and chest and gut. She fell back, head bouncing off the cabin’s doorsill. Her mouth was full of foulness, and when she blinked only one of her eyes was working. The other was a red roaring pit of agony.

  She saw one of them come toward her, pulled her pistol clumsily from her right hip, and shot him.

  Her gun’s roar was briefer than theirs, but louder and closer. The man went down like an anchor, and the one she’d cut took to his heels.

  The third man only stared.

  Mary wasn’t sure if anyone was screaming or not; her ears were ringing madly, and the pain was gonging in her skull. She sat up, stiffly, and a flood of foul water spilled out of all the holes they’d shot in her. She wiped some of it off her face with her free hand and found that the sight in her left eye was coming blearily back.

  She spat out a mouthful of something like thick bilgewater and tried to brandish her pistol at the remaining man, although it came out as more of an ominous waggle. He was staring at the gun as if he thought the devil had reloaded it with powder and shot while neither of them was looking.

  “Move along,” she said again.

  He fled.

  Grace came out a moment later, and Mary went sprawling as the cabin door slammed into her back. The younger woman had the long gun set against her shoulder, and she didn’t drop it when she saw the bleeding body in the starlight.

  Grace helped Mary inside, bolted the door, and lit an oil lamp. Mary still couldn’t clo
se her left eye, but her vision was clearing. She looked down at herself, and the wracked tatters of her shirt and vest.

  “Still no drink?” she said, trying to smile at the younger woman.

  “Are you going to die?” Grace was staring at her. “You have holes everywhere. And your blood stinks. And...”

  “I don’t think that’s blood,” Mary said. The leaking liquid smelt foul as if she’d been gutshot, but was watery and salty and didn’t have much red to it. Bilgewater came to mind again, and she managed to blink.

  She mopped some of the ooze away with the remains of her shirt. Her skin was scarring white over her wounds. “Get me something to clean with.”

  Grace backed away, still staring, and found a clean rag. Mary wiped the blood and bilge off herself, and by then Grace had found her a shirt. Mary guessed it had been Jack’s.

  “How are you still alive?”

  “I took something from the sea,” Mary said. “It was a fountain, like, and a star, and a jewel. But it was her heart, as well. I went looking for the heart of the sea because I loved her, and I took her heart for my own.”

  “You stole the heart of the sea?”

  “Aye.” Mary thought of saying more, and worked the buttons on Jack’s shirt, instead. The collar was too high and tight, so she left the top ones undone.

  “How do you know... I mean, did you see her?”

  “I’ve seen her all my life,” Mary said, “and sailed her, and loved her in all her moods. It wasn’t enough. So I found my way to the island where she’d walk when she chose to, and I found her heart at the bottom of a sun-struck lagoon, and... Well. I’m not a good woman, I guess.”

 
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