Wish List

“So what were you going to get me for Christmas?” she whispered.

“A book,” he replied. Elle was the sort of person who never said aloud that she wanted something, and honestly seemed to not desire much. She didn’t like jewelry or expensive clothes, and didn’t care about gadgets with an i in their name. Her tastes were modest; she was a reader. So, when Evan had seen the collector’s edition of her favorite novel on display behind the counter at the bookstore he knew that’s what she had to have.

The bookseller described all the things about it that made the edition special: Smyth sewn bindings, embossed endpapers, and gilded edges. The thing came in a traycase that folded out with the book in a box on one side and an art print on the other that looked like a piece of the ancient manuscript the characters used to defeat the ancient evil after them. There were only twenty-six, lettered copies of that edition of the book in the world. But that it was hand-signed by the author before he died was what made it perfect. That this one was even the letter E in the series made it almost like the author had personalized it just for Elle.

Evan had read the book once and liked it well enough, even though he wasn’t much of a reader. But Elle, she read it every year at Christmastime. She said it reminded her of getting the book from her dad when she was ten. Sixteen years later, she still owned the same copy he’d given her Christmas morning. The pages were yellow, the spine was warped, and the back cover had fallen off. It never had a front cover; her old man had pulled a “stripped” paperback book out of a dumpster behind the mall and given it to his kid as a present. Yet, she loved it like it was printed on angel feathers.

Evan bought her a new copy a few years ago, but she didn’t throw her original copy away. She retired it to a shelf above their bed. She’d give up an arm or an eye before she got rid of the last thing her father had ever given her. It was the only thing she had left of him. After he took off, her mother had gone through the house and removed every last trace of her husband, erasing him from their history like he was a Soviet defector. Besides Elle herself, that book was all that remained of him.

The fancy edition behind the counter cost two thousand dollars. Before seeing it, Evan would have said he didn’t know who in hell would spend two grand on a book. But, damn, if he didn’t want to get it for her. She deserved it. Problem was, he didn’t have two thousand dollars—he wasn’t sure he’d ever held that much money at once. He couldn’t steal the book either. Not as often as she dragged him into that store to shop. He had to buy it if she was going to have it.

So, he stole a red kettle. And then another one. Three of them, successfully, in fact. It was taking the fourth one that got him arrested. If people weren’t such fuckin’ Scrooges, he could’ve gotten away with only one or maybe two. But then, times were tough, and folks were getting tight with their money. That’s what the asshole manager at the restaurant told him when he said they had to let Evan go.

“What were you going to get me?” he asked.

“I had my eye on that nice chef’s knife you wanted. You know the one.”

He nodded. “You must’ve had more than your eye on it.”

She smiled and blushed. “I had my eye on it. I don’t know how the display case came unlocked.”

The prosecutor shouted out, “The State calls Evan Cassiel. Docket number 2016-cv616-A.” A bailiff took Evan by the elbow and led him out of the holding box toward the defense table. Evan looked back at Elle, waiting her turn before the judge, and winked. She blew a kiss to him. At least they got to spend Christmas Eve together.


Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded

Today we launch the third volume of the Both Barrels series with Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded.

Featuring 25 stories by:

  • “A Boy Like Billy” by Patricia Abbott
  • “Border Crossing” by Michael McGlade
  • “Looking for the Death Trick” by Bracken MacLeod
  • “Maybelle’s Last Stand” by Travis Richardson
  • “Predators” by Marie S. Crosswell
  • “Twenty to Life” by Frank Byrns
  • “So Much Love” by Keith Rawson
  • “Running Late” by Tess Makovesky
  • “Last Supper” by Katanie Duarte
  • “Danny” by Michael Bracken
  • “The Plot” by Jedidiah Ayres
  • “What Alva Wants” by Timothy Friend
  • “Time Enough to Kill” by Kent Gowran
  • “Copas” by Hector Acosta
  • “Yellow Car Punch” by Nigel Bird
  • “Love at First Fight” by Angel Luis Colón
  • “Traps” by Owen Laukkanen
  • “Down the Rickety Stairs” by Alan Orloff
  • “Blackmailer’s Pep Talk” by Chris Rhatigan
  • “With a Little bit of Luck” by Bill Baber
  • “As Cute as a Speckled Pup Under a Red Wagon” by Tony Conaway
  • “Chipping off the Old Block” by Nick Kolakowski
  • “Young Turks and Old Wives” by Shane Simmons
  • “The Hangover Cure” by Seth Lynch
  • “Highway Six” by John L. Thompson

Available in paperback and Kindle editions. Buy your copy today!


Blight Digest (Winter 2015) Releases

We are pleased to release our second edition of Blight Digest featuring thirteen tales to tantalize and terrorize the senses.

BD-Winter2015-Iss2-v2-fullcover

Table of Contents Features:

  • Farewell, Again by Matt Andrew
  • Burrow by Paul J. Garth
  • The Hunger, The Thirst by W.P. Johnson
  • How Little Sleeps by Angel Luis Colón
  • On Dark Wings by Tony Wilson
  • The Door by Joe Powers
  • Regular, Normal People by Grant Jerkins
  • The Hungry Ones by John Leahy
  • Parts by Jacqueline Seewald
  • Running on Dead Leaves by John Steele
  • Dreaming of Honey by J.M. Perkins
  • Cats for Ginger by Mathew Allan Garcia
  • Serving Justine by Eddie McNamara
  • and a farewell foreword by Bracken MacLeod

Blight Digest is a three season magazine featuring 10 or more stories every 4 months that will feed just about any horror lovers tastes with a twist. The magazine welcomes new and established writers, and readers of all walks of life. The first two editions were edited and crafted by Bracken MacLeod, Jan Kozlowski, Ron Earl Phillips, and Frank Larnerd. Cover art by done by Dyer Wilk.

Be sure to pick up your copy today. And if you haven’t read issue 1, Blight Digest Fall 2014, it’s only 99 cents on the Kindle.

BD-Winter2015-Iss2-v2 Blight-Digest-Cover

Fear is Spreading

 

 


Blight Digest Winter 2015 Reveal

BD-Winter2015-Iss2-v2BLIGHT DIGEST Winter 2015 is expected to release the last week of February, and includes 13 all new tales to tingle and terrorize.

Our Table of Contents:

  • Grant Jerkins
  • Mathew Andrew
  • Eddie McNamara
  • Angel Luis Colón
  • Paul Garth
  • Mathew Allan Garcia
  • Jacqueline Seewald
  • Tony Wilson
  • John Steele
  • J M Perkins
  • William P Johnson
  • John Leahy
  • Joe Powers

Our editors are Bracken MacLeod, Jan Kozlowski, Frank Larnerd and Ron Earl Phillips. Jan who was an invaluable asset for the Fall 2014 edition lent a notable hand in the selection process. Frank Larnerd steps in for final production and will assist on the summer and fall editions. Bracken MacLeod will provide the foreword.

Our cover, “Praying with the Serpent,” is a masterful digital painting by Dyer Wilk. Wilk provided the art for our inaugural Fall 2014 release.

At this time, stories for the Summer 2015 edition are still under review.


Gold Teeth

Jaime held a finger to his lips, reminding his asshole partner to be quiet. It was instruction Jaime didn’t need; creeping through the embalming room had stolen his voice.

“The fuck is that smell?” Tommy asked again.

Death.

“Embalming fluid,” Jaime said. “I’ll find you a bottle if you promise to drink it.” He was tired of Tommy’s bullshit. The guy had enough focus to pick a lock but after that, his meager intellect was spent and he liked to fuck around.

Two years ago Jaime had cased a triple-decker near Tufts with apartment doors that weren’t visible from the street. A fresh batch of students moved in every fall—it was a bottomless treasure trove of laptops, smartphones, and tablets. All they had to do was get through the common door and Jaime and Tommy could toss the place like it was The Rapture.

The second time they’d hit it, however, Tommy found a bunch of dildos in some chick’s top drawer. Lots of them. Big ones. He’d skipped around her room swinging a sparkly black cock overhead until Jaime forced him to put it back. They emptied the place and left. Less than a month later there were bars on the windows to compliment the shiny new alarm system.

Tommy had laughed. “Steal all the expensive do-dads you want, but leave a rubber dick on a pillow and the management gets spooked.”

Jaime wanted to kill him. Instead, he broke up with his partner in crime, swearing never to work with him again.

Then his tío died and he needed the guy to get into the funeral home.

“You know where it is?” Tommy asked. He poked at something that looked like an oversized blender with a rubber hose coming out of it.

“How should I know? Just stay quiet and keep a lookout.” The thought of what went on in the room made Jaime want to take a shower that lasted a year.

He wanted Uncle Angel’s teeth more.

They weren’t worth much—maybe fifty bucks apiece—but he’d read about some stiff stacker down in New Jersey who got popped for stealing his customers’ gold teeth. Had thousands of dollars worth of them stashed away. When Jaime’s auntie didn’t get Angel’s crowns after the cremation, he figured it couldn’t hurt to take a look around. He knew the deep-six director wasn’t going to keep his little treasures out in a dish like lemon candies. They’d be in the office—probably in one of those fireproof safes.

Jaime heard a chuk sound and a faint pop that reminded him of the walk-in freezer at his tío’s restaurant. He looked around to see Tommy peeking into the corpse cooler. “Get the fuck out of there.”

“I just wanna look. I never seen a dead body before,” Tommy said, slipping into the industrial freezer. Jaime followed, furious and half-tempted to strangle him.

Inside the narrow room, shelves with pull-out trays lined the walls, floor to ceiling. A pair of corpses lay wrapped in white shrouds. Tommy read the orange tag hanging off of one. “Todd Robbins. Fuck, dude! I went to school with Todd Robbin’s son. That kid was the biggest douche in Dorchester.”

“Whatever. Let’s go.” Jaime rubbed his arms. He was dressed for the balmy summer evening outside—not a meat locker. On a high shelf deep in the cooler, a half dozen butcher paper bundles caught his eye. He pushed past Tommy and stepped up on a low shelf to get a better look. He shone his light on a handwritten label. Backstrap/tenderloin—Zimmerman. Beneath that: sirloin/round/rump—Colón.

“Colón?”

“That’s your name; don’t wear it out,” Tommy said.

No one ever looked in a dead man’s mouth at a funeral. Who would notice if he had his gold teeth?

No one looked at a dead man’s back or thighs either.

The chuk of the closing door echoed in the freezer followed by the scraping sound of a pin sliding into the handle outside. Jaime turned, shining his light on their only way out.

“Hey!” Tommy shouted. He banged his reddened fists against the frost encrusted steel. “Let us out!”

The freezer compressor kicked on, drowning out his cries.

The machine’s droning vibrated Jaime’s body until he couldn’t breathe. Tommy’s screams pounded against the inside of his skull until he could barely think. Fucking freezing. I’m in here because of him, and I’m going to fucking freeze to death!

Jaime’s arms trembled as he bashed Tommy’s head into the door, but he held on and did it again. And again. When he finished, his hands were completely numb. Feet too. He stripped Tommy and dressed in his clothes. Then he sat on his partner’s cooling blue body and waited.

His gold-capped tooth ached in the cold.


White Knight

whiteknight3dWe here at One Eye Press are ecstatic to release our second One Eye Press Singles, Bracken MacLeod’s WHITE KNIGHT.

What’s it about:

Once, he had imagined himself slaying dragons and making the monsters pay. But his armor was wearing thin as the women who drifted through his office haunted him with the same, hard-bought lie: “I want to drop the charges.” Every bruised face and split lip reminded the prosecutor of the broken home he’d escaped. So when Marisol Pierce appeared with an image of her son and a hint that she was willing to take a step away from the man abusing her, he made a promise he couldn’t keep.

A promise that could cost him everything.

Now, he’s in a race against time to find the boy, save the damsel, and free himself from a dragon no one can leash before everything in his world is burned to cinders. This is his last chance to be a White Knight.

Some men only know how to do hard things the hard way.

Some Advance Praise:

“I urge you to pick up WHITE KNIGHT by Bracken MacLeod at your soonest opportunity. If you enjoy noir that deposits you in the midst of a fevered nightmare and holds you fast with sweating palms and palpitating heart as street justice is sweetly measured out, this is the fiction you must read. This is a hugely masterful accomplishment and that is an understatement.”

–Les Edgerton, author of THE RAPIST, THE BITCH and (forthcoming) THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING

“Bracken MacLoud s WHITE KNIGHT packs a novel s worth of action and emotion into a tightly spun novella; and it proves two of life s most enduring truths in the process: no good deed goes unpunished, and there is no stronger pull for the righteous than to rewrite the wrongs of the past. A powerhouse of a book.”

–Joe Clifford, author of JUNKIE LOVE and LAMENTATION

WHITE KNIGHT is a harrowing portrait of a man drowning in the riptide created by an imperfect legal system and his own best intentions. Bracken MacLeod packs a lot of story into this thoughtful, propulsive read.”

–Rob Hart, author of THE LAST SAFE PLACE: A ZOMBIE NOVELLA and the upcoming NEW YORKED

“Bracken MacLeod has outdone himself with WHITE KNIGHT, a bristling beast of a thriller that does what I would have thought impossible: it tops even his own brilliant debut, Mountain Home. I wouldn t advise missing this or any of MacLeod s stellar work.”

–Ed Kurtz, author of THE FORTY-TWO and A WIND OF KNIVES

“Bracken MacLeod has penned a brisk noir thriller that leaves you panting, with the icy fingers of street-raised psychopaths tickling the back of your neck. Dennis Lehane s sensibility with the pedal mashed to the floor and the key broken off in the ignition, WHITE KNIGHT is a heart-thumping ride with an inevitable outcome you can t see coming.”

–Thomas Pluck, author of BLADE OF DISHONOR

Get Your Copy:


Knights and Preachers, One Eye Press Announces New Singles

oepsinglesOn the coattails of the release of Federales by Christopher Irvin, One Eye Press is enthusiastic in announcing the next two releases from the Singles Line.

To those who picked up a copy of Federales our next release for June 10th is no surprise. White Knight by Bracken MacLeod has a little excerpt included in the back of the debut Singles release. Bracken hit One Eye Press by storm last year with submissions being accepted in all three publications: Shotgun Honey, Reloaded: Both Barrels Vol. 2, and The Big Adios. And with the release of his first novel, Mountain Home, when we were offered a chance read his novella White Knight, how could we say no?

White Knight by Bracken MacLeod (June 10, 2014)

Once, he had imagined himself slaying dragons and making the monsters pay. But his armor was wearing thin as the women who drifted through his office haunted him with the same, hard-bought lie: “I want to drop the charges.” Every bruised face and split lip reminded the prosecutor of the broken home he’d escaped. So when Marisol Pierce appeared with an image of her son and a hint that she was willing to take a step away from the man abusing her, he made a promise he couldn’t keep.

A promise that could cost him everything.

Now, he’s in a race against time to find the boy, save the damsel, and himself from a dragon no one can leash before everything in his world is burned to cinders. This is his last chance to be a White Knight.

Some men only know how to do hard things the hard way.


Our third novella is a western that tests a man’s faith in Gospel of the Bullet by Chris Leek. Chris Leek is also a contributor to Shotgun Honey and Reloaded: Both Barrels Vol. 2, and has  been a valuable editor for The Big Adios. The man spins a fantastic western yarn that we’d swear that he has Missouri mud shipped to the UK just so he can become one with the West.

Gospel of the Bullet by Chris Leek (September 16, 2014)

Mitchel McCann may have lost a war, but he never lost his belief. The preacher kept his faith throughout all the blood and the dying; trading his pulpit for a saddle and delivering his sermons with a brace of Walker Colts. McCann still believes in God, but he is no longer sure that God believes in him. Now fate has given him a chance at redemption; the opportunity to save a life instead of taking one.

Justice Simpson was only seven years old when she lost her father. She has been losing steadily ever since. The Yankee ball that did in Dan Simpson also killed his wife, Rosalee, although it took another nine years to do it. Alone and destitute on the unforgiving streets of Saint Joseph, Missouri, Justice knows that the sooner or later the bullet will find her too.

In the winter of 1872 the war is long over, but on the Kansas—Missouri border old wounds are slow to heal and they leave ugly scars. The past is something that neither the preacher nor the girl can escape.


We are still reviewing to fill out our first year and to kick 2015 off with a bang. Submissions will reopen in a few months. Keep an eye on the submissions page.

 


Meet the Editor: Bracken MacLeod

Bracken MacLeod is one of the submission editors behind BLIGHT Digest, our new quarterly dark fiction and horror magazine. He is a past contributor to Shotgun Honey, The Big Adios and Reloaded, so who better to know what it’s like to submit to One Eye Press and face the gauntlet? Read his stories (hint: the links in the previous sentence) and the wisdom of his answers.

What was your first introduction to Dark Fiction and Horror?

My earliest memory of reading dark fiction and horror was when I read Steven Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in fifth grade. I devoured that book, keeping it out way past when it was due back at the library. I asked our librarian for more like it, but this was long before Goosebumps or anything like that and she told me they didn’t have anything appropriate I could read. So instead, I asked my mother for something. She gave me a copy of Cujo. I loved the book because Tad was close to my age and we’d once had a St. Bernard. That neither one fares well in the end (am I allowed to spoil a thirty year old book?) didn’t bother me. After that I was hooked on horror (and age-inappropriate reading). I also suspect that it’s Cujo’s fault that I am not a big fan of tidy endings where everyone is A-okay.

What is the scariest real life moment you experienced?

I’ve seen and lived through a lot of scary things and more than a couple are too personal to share. I’ve been a legal observer at crime scenes, been threatened by really bad people, and have almost died more than once (from causes both external and internal). Instead of picking one, I’ll tell you instead about the scariest place I’ve ever been: Pocatello, Idaho. The last six months I lived there they arrested James Edward Wood, a serial rapist and killer who’d done unspeakable things to a local papergirl, there were official warnings of a homeless man stabbing people who refused to give him money, and an armed, day-long stand-off in the bank across the parking lot from my apartment. That doesn’t count living above the guy who’d strangled, bludgeoned, ran over, and then burned his girlfriend one afternoon, or the various people I knew who were “randomly” attacked in years prior. It was the scariest place I’ve ever been and I’ve lived in both Imperial Beach, California back when it was still known as “Whiskey Flats” and New Haven, Connecticut. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of really great people in Pocatello, but the ones who aren’t nice don’t play around. You want to know why I set my first novel in Idaho? Look at the crime blotter.

Stephen King or Robert McCammon?

McCammon. Although I’ve read more King solely by virtue of him being more prolific, and despite my formative experience detailed above, I prefer McCammon’s style. The Wolf’s Hour remains my favorite of his.

What are five books that have most influenced you as a writer, any genre?

  • Strega by Andrew Vachss — This is the book that got me interested in crime, noir and hardboiled when I was a teenager. As a writer, it’s my go-to for remembering how to write a protagonist who isn’t above his or her antagonist. As Vachss would say, an angel is a lousy tour guide through Hell.
  • The Damnation Game by Clive Barker — TDG was a game changer for me in terms of dark sensuality in fiction. Reading Barker’s work was the first time I connected with real body horror in literature. When I want to write something that is close and imbued with bodily terror, this is where I go for inspiration.
  • Closing Time and Other Stories by Jack Ketchum — Specifically the titular novella in this collection is what moves me. Ketchum does profound feeling like few other writers I know. Whatever it is you should be feeling in a story–horror, revulsion, longing, regret–he can make you feel it in spades. If you don’t believe me, just try to read Closing Time and not be left feeling like you’ve lost something you can’t live without. I dare you.
  • The Plague by Albert Camus — If you’ve ever wanted to understand how symbolism works in fiction, read The Plague. The citizens of Oran exemplify isolation, solidarity, and resistance in the face of cosmic indifference and the absurdity of existence. This is scarier than any tentacled monster Lovecraft could imagine. When I’m trying to work out theme in my writing, Camus is my teacher, The Plague is the preacher!
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy — this is the book that taught me how to really write horror. Take good people, do horrible things to them. But not just that. You can’t be content saying that these are good people. You have to really show it, in this case by making them the last two people in the world dedicated to preserving goodness and love by keeping the other alive and on the right path. Now put them in constant peril of losing each other and their way. That’s how you write horror. The reader shouldn’t just want them to persevere–they should need those characters to prevail, need it right down to the core of their being because the alternative means the literal end of everything.

What are you looking for in a good horror story?

More important than coming up with the clever idea, the monster, apocalypse, or possession, make me feel something. It can be scared, it can be sad, it can be despairing, but it better be something that’s twisting my guts up. Honestly, if your story doesn’t scare you, you have no chance of doing that to me. See what I say above about Closing Time and The Road.


Sky Burial

Earle watched the blood in the water drift away like a line of campfire smoke spread thin by the night wind. The crimson ribbon washed down the creek, twisting around the stones as though it had a purpose and couldn’t be delayed. There was Hell to pay and blood settles its debts in fast time.

Earle had bloody debts to pay.

Above him in the clear azure sky the noonday sun shone hot, feeling like an iron right off the stove pressed to his back. He thought about peeling his shirt off and wading into the creek for a bit of a cool down and a whore’s bath. But Addams’ body spilling its red into the current kept Earle on dry earth, sweating out his own life a little slower, but just as final.

The desert breeze dried a man out. It dried him out and left him wishing for a cleansing rain to push the blowing dirt back down to the ground where it belonged. You can wish for rain all you like, Earle, but you ain’t gonna make water fall from the sky any more than Addams asking forgiveness was going to make you stay your hand. He looked at the water extending as far up the gulch as he could see and thought how it would only last a little while longer. Maybe a week, maybe less, until it thinned like Addams’ blood, died out and dried out for the summer. Then, the bed beneath it would bake, bleach and crack in the sun until next year when the snow in the mountains melted again.

Earle stared at the man he’d shot. He’d imagined killing Addams a hundred different ways. He thought of what it would be like to hang him from a low branch and watch his toes dance in the dirt while his eyes bulged and his extruded tongue turned purple. He imagined beating the man to death with the butt of a rifle and breaking his neck and choking him and whipping him with a strop until there was no skin left on his back and dragging him behind a horse and… and… and…. The daydream that occurred most often was facing the man in the narrow hallway outside the room at McClintock’s, where the reprobate stayed, and sticking a bowie knife into his guts, breathing in Addams’ last breath like cigarette smoke and watching the light go out of his eyes as the tide of his life soaked the boards and Earle’s boots. But then the whoreson had to go and run. He made Earle chase him from Holbrook to wherever the hell they’d gotten to when his horse gave out. Then Addams had made him chase him some more, right down to the creek where he’d turned to fire one last shot.

Earle was faster on the trigger than pleading words on a desperate man’s lips. He had hate to quicken his eye and reflexes. He gunned Addams down with a shot in the throat that spun that man around, dropping him to his knees in the mud. Earle had contemplated firing a second time, but the sound of his quarry gasping and gagging was like the prettiest hymn he’d ever heard his precious Evangeline sing.

How he’d loved going to church just to hear that girl raise her voice. The preacher would drone on about hellfire and damnation, about how the world was degraded with sin and debauchery, but none of it meant a shit to Earle. Not until his Little Evey would sing. He would sit there through those sermons and wait patiently, and then she would open her mouth and his spine would straighten and his heart would be lifted right up to Heaven on her breath. No big celestial mansions or cathedrals or even flights of angels heralding the majesty of the Lord could compare to that voice. It elevated him. Gave him the feeling of being held by something too beautiful for this Earth.

And it was gone. Silenced by the man bleeding out in ephemeral water. Dying the same way his Evey had done. Addams slit her throat and hid her body under a mattress where she stayed for a day while he got his head start out of town. Then, she began to stink. Everyone in Holbrook knew what a corpse smelled like. It was as common an odor as beer farts in a tavern, but still, it wasn’t something to ignore anywhere but on the streets. Nobody in Holbrook cared much about a dead cleaning girl—especially a colored one—even if she could sing, so no one figured it’d be worth trying to raise a posse to round up Addams and hold him accountable for the killing. Not even her employer, the preacher.

No one but Earle.

He tracked the coward to a ranch where Addams had stopped for a day or two of work before the owner ran him off for looking a little too hungrily at his daughter. Afterward, the rancher gave Earle rest and food and encouragement to go finish the job he said he should have done. Earle had thanked the man for not shooting Addams. “I’d’ve missed having satisfaction,” he said. Now that satisfaction was his, however, he still felt empty. There was a place deep in him, hollow and aching to be filled with the souls of every god damned man Earle could shoot, strangle, or slash.

It was the place where her voice had once lived.

Earle reckoned he’d waited long enough. Unless Addams had grown gills in the last twenty minutes, he wasn’t about to get up to any more trouble. He reached beneath the dead man and undid his gun belt. He then pulled off Addams’ boots. Earle anticipated the need for a second pair since his own mount had fallen to one of Addams’ wild shots and the walk home was going to be long.

Out of a boot dropped a pearl-handled straight razor. Earle caught it mid-fall. He thumbed it open. Maroon crust at the hinge flaked and came off onto his fingers. He raised them to his tongue, tasting Evangeline one last time. Her blood was saltier than her skin had been, but still it reminded him of tasting her body those nights when she could steal away. He closed his eyes and imagined her standing at the end of his bed, bare skin glistening with sweat, her dark eyes looking at him with love and hunger. He would ask her to sing. She would softly intone the first few lines of Now the Day Is Over or I Need Thee Every Hour, filling that place in him before she would climb abed to be filled herself.

No more.

He blinked away the memory. Returning to the gulch, he gave brief thought to concealing Addams’ body. He decided face down in the dirt was how he liked him better. Hiding the scalawag under a pile of rocks felt too much like giving the man a decent Christian burial. Earle had never had truck with religion except to hear Evey sing. One time, though, he’d spent an afternoon talking to a Chinaman about Booderism or whatever he’d called his pagan faith. He’d told Earle when his papa died they chopped him up into little bits and fed him to vultures. The chink had said it was because the ground where he was from was always frozen and too rocky to bury anybody anyhow. He called what they did “sky burial.” Whatever it was called, it sounded downright unpleasant for everybody except the vultures.

And a fitting end for this piece of shit.

Grabbing Addams’ ankles, he dragged the dead man out of the water before cutting open his clothes with the razor and stripping them off so the carrion-eaters could have at him better.  Throwing them into the water he shouted, “I hope the afterlife is a long swim through a coyote’s bowels, you whoreson! You hear me? I’d track you to Hell just to kill you twice!”

He took a deep breath and tried to remember the words the Chinaman had taught him to say to relax, doing his best to groan them out low as the fella had done—way back in his throat like there were a bunch of guys singing and not just one. Earle wasn’t sure if what he sang was words in Booderism or China-ese or any other language for that matter. It just made him feel better to focus on something other than Evey and Addams. He knew his rage was wasted on a corpse, but doubted he was ever going to stop feeling it. Instead, he did his best to take comfort in the thought that critters might eat the man and thereafter reduce him to shit.

He repeated the sounds until his breathing was back to normal. Still, he felt it, unquenched, hot and burning despite the cooling body at his feet. Anger was there threatening to make his heart race, tire him out and slow his progress through the desert. It hovered behind him like a reaper’s upraised scythe. If I don’t keep it together I’ll be face down in the dirt myself before I’m halfway home.

Breathe.

“Om mani padme hum,” he droned.

Returning to the fallen horse, Earle used the razor to dissever the saddlebag not trapped under the beast’s carcass. He figured he could spend all his effort trying to raise the nag off the ground enough to slide the whole thing out, or he could make do with half of Addams’ stores. Half was better than wasting all his strength trying to get a dead horse to roll over. His own bags were worthless. He’d set out with revenge in mind—not safe return—and they were empty.

What is there to return to? A two room shack on the outskirts of town with an empty bed? A job looking after cattle for the Hashknife Outfit? Always smelling like cow shit and never having anything better than whiskey and drunken oblivion to look forward to? He felt a sudden craving for a snort and regretted directing his thoughts toward anything but getting out of the sun. He felt his father’s contempt and heard the man speaking to him through the years from over a fence in their corral. Focus on that horse, boy. You’re a god damned day-dreamer; it’s gonna get you killed. That same horse kicked his father in the face and put him down the way Earle had never had the balls to do himself. Unless you counted bouncing a rock off that horse’s ass with a slingshot having the balls.

Shoulda gave him a sky burial.

He set up Addams’ lean-to, crawled under, and pulled his legs up close trying to shrink into the meager shade it provided. He ate some of Addams’ food and drank stream water and tried to nap while he waited for the sun to set. Eventually, he slipped out of the world for a spell of fitful sleep. He was plagued by visions of Evey. She stood in his room frowning at him, tracing the crimson smile at her throat with a wet finger and asked in a rasp why he wouldn’t come nearer.

“Can you sing somethin’ for me?” he asked.

She tilted her head back and pulled open the lips of her wound. The sound that spilled out made the walls blacken and crumble around them until they were left standing outside in the shadow of the church. The preacher stood on the front step with his hand out. Evey let him lead her inside. He slammed the door behind them, shutting Earle out in the night.

He awoke with a start to the setting sun burning red on the dusty horizon. It looked like Hell had come to Holbrook and started without him.

Composing himself, he stood up straight and buckled on the newly-acquired gun belt. He anticipated a three day walk back to the ranch and then, if he could manage to talk the rancher out of a horse, another day’s ride to Holbrook.

And then what?

And then to church.

Earle vowed he’d leave no one living who could accuse his beloved of being a whore. Maybe he’d leave the white-collared bastard out for the scavengers and give him a sky burial too.

He walked off into the night whispering to himself, “Om mani padme hum.” Mindful of his rage.


Dogman

Although the larger room felt less stifling than the hallway, Seth still had to resist putting his hand to his face to deaden the scent of shit and unwashed dog. The thickness of the air in the warehouse reminded him of the temperature inversions that would trap car exhaust and the dusty stench from the nearby farms over the town. People called it fog, but it wasn’t water in the atmosphere that turned the autumn sky brown. Next to him, Avery reached up to pinch his own nose shut. Looking down at his son, he shook his head slightly. The boy blinked once to say he understood and dropped his hand back to his side.

The dogman led them into the warehouse filled with rows of chain link kennels.  “How much you lookin’ to drop?” he shouted over the din of the barking. A spot of glare from the hard fluorescent lights reflecting off of his shaven head gave a momentary appearance of a halo crowning him. The tattoo of the twin numeral eights peeking up above his collar dispelled that illusion.

“I just want something suited to the task.” Seth said. “I’m unconcerned with cost.”

The dogman huffed amusement at the invitation to raise the price. “With a name like yours, I thought you might be a Jew.”

“Don’t worry; I spend freely.”

“Fuckin’ A, Daddy Warbucks. These are my prospects right here,” he said, pointing to a group of younger dogs in clean cages. “You can’t have any of them. The best dogs I can afford to let go are this way.” He led Seth and Avery over to the far wall and a row of overly-muscled pit bulls with scarred faces. “Normally, I don’t sell my champions, but since Stavros sent you…”

It hadn’t been easy to get the referral from the old Greek. Seth had had to be very convincing. He pointed toward a door through which he could hear more barking. “What have you got in there?”

The dogman waved the question away with a tattooed hand. “That’s just bait. Ain’t shit in there.”

“You breed your own?”

The dogman hissed through his teeth. “Fuck no. That’d take too long. Most dudes start with dogs you get from Internet ads. ‘Free to a good home’ and shit like that. People’ll gladly hand you their mutt and you don’t have to spend shit on an animal that your prospect is just going to tear apart. You start there with rat dogs, but you gotta move up to tougher bait. Gets ‘em ready for the show better. Real world training like fuckin’ MMA warriors do.” The dogman threw a couple of well-practiced jabs and a hook at the air in front of Seth, his HGH-enhanced muscles rippling. “People don’t just give those dogs away. You gotta get ‘em some other way.” He leaned over and put a hand on Avery’s shoulder. Seth fought the urge to break the dogman’s arm. “Some pits are game and they got it in ‘em already, but you still gotta teach ‘em early how to get over. There are dogs born tough — with selective breeding and shit — but a good dogman will make them champions. You follow me, son?”

Avery nodded.

“What? He don’t talk?”

Seth looked down at his boy and smiled. “He knows when a man speaks. He’ll say something when he has something worth saying, not just to hear himself.”

The dogman straightened up and got in Seth’s face. “You sayin’ I talk too m–” The shot echoed in the warehouse, making the animals go wild in their cages. The dogman fell limp to the concrete like someone cut his strings. No theatrics. Just straight down.

Seth put his hand on his child’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “That’s two. How did it feel this time?”

“Better. Easier,” Avery said, slipping the P99 back into his hoodie.

“That’s my boy.” Seth nodded back at the “prospect” puppies the dogman had been unwilling to sell. “You think your mom’ll like it if we bring a new one home to take over guard duties for Samson?”

“Can we?”

Seth tousled his son’s hair. “You bet! You earned it.”