I fell a little bit behind in my reading, and I'm only able to review one of the last three stories today. I'll review the others tomorrow and add them to this post, and yes, I'll be posting my one word script as well. To make up for the lack of content today, I've decided I'd talk a little bit more about one of the other stories I tried to write for "How the West Was Weird". After I wimped out of writing my Daniel Boone in space story, Russ Anderson (editor extraordinaire) kept on me to try and write something for the book. And I did want to, people... I really did. So when Russ sent me the finished cover by Jim Rugg, I set out to try and write a story based on that. I figured it might be a little easier to put a story together with some visual stimulation behind it. But I was in a bad way with my writing last year, and although I was trying anything I could to get out the funk, nothing seemed to be working. But a couple of ideas did spark from the cover. The first was a story about a gunslinger being inexorably drawn through the desert to an alien presence. Once there, the gunslinger would be compelled to gun the alien down - if he could. The idea was that the alien was collecting the hardware of various gunslingers through the Wild West. Kind of like how the alien in "Predator" was always collecting the skulls and/or spines of his prey. Here's a few snippets of the eventually abandoned story...
The sun was a bloated teardrop of fire in a cloudless sky. The wanderer had been wandering for days through a desolate wasteland that stretched before him with no end in sight. His boots scuffed the barren ground and wisps of dust rose in their wake.
The drumbeat in his head drove him onward.
A shadow slipped between the wanderer’s feet and slithered along the dusty ground. He lifted his head to track it, and the sun framed the savage outline of a vulture circling overhead. Pain sunk its teeth into the eyes of the wanderer as the sun blazed. He let his chin fall down to his chest.
The iron twirled with seamless precision and was replaced. The other approached the crumpled body of the wanderer and plucked it from the desolate landscape like a withering weed. The vultures crept near, but the other paid them no consideration. It stripped the wanderer, peeling each layer carefully away. The bones of the wanderer snapped as the other carelessly pried the cherished iron from his unresponsive fingers. When it was finished, the other allowed the wanderer to fall once more to the dusty bowl of earth. The vultures lifted their wings in open gratitude and rushed forward, curved beaks snapping greedily at the air. The other picked its way calmly back to its lair, carefully traversing the tangled remains of the wanderers that had come before. The sound of tearing flesh filled the silence.
The iron was placed reverently among the others, and the other quietly admired the craftsmanship of its newest addition. Long months had been spent on this planet, and the time for additional acquisitions was growing short. The other cast its mind outward across the desolate landscape, scrabbling like a starving vulture for scraps of flesh. The drumbeat began anew.
What's there isn't too bad, I don't think. Not great, but not terrible either. I just couldn't bring myself to finish it. What you read, if you did read it, was the first and last paragraphs of the story. There wasn't much else written. I knew how I wanted it to start, and I knew how I wanted it to end, and I had an idea of how it would go in-between. But after numerous false starts the story withered on the vine. I came up with another story based on the cover image, and got about 2,200 words into that one as well, but that's enough lamenting for this installment. There's stories that were finished for the book, after all, and they're begging to be reviewed!
The seventh story of "How the West Was Weird" is titled "You Need to Know What's Coming" by Ian Mileham. The title is apt, not only because of the content of the story, but also because I never saw this story coming. It absolutely blew me away. The story starts with a man meeting a woman named Ms. McCullough for the first time. He falls for her immediately, but her interest in him is of a more professional nature. She shows him a large, precious stone and asks him to escort her to the place she believes more of them might be located. The reason she believes this is because a man dying of snakebite and starvation gave her the stone just before he passed, hinting that more of them could be found in an old ghost town. Only three men in the town are aware of the location of the ghost town, and McCollough has decided her newfound guide is the most desperate of the bunch. The man reluctantly agrees to lead McCollough and the two men with her out to the ghost town. During the ride we're blessed with more information regarding McCollough, the men she rides with, and the narrator of the story, the guide, who describes the landscape, his riding companions and his own doubts and fears in vivid detail. The story is a clinic in both the use of metaphor to describe the setting and emotions that frame the tale, along with intelligent, well-placed dialogue that leads you to believe that each character is searching for more than what is eventually made apparent. Once the party reaches their destination, the motivations of the guide and Ms. McCollough are revealed in stark detail as they fight for their lives in the ghost town of Blood Rock. When the dust has settled, the story slows down only long enough to sweep you up again with a classic twist ending. I admit that I saw it coming, but my accurate prediction made it no less enjoyable.
And, as promised, reviews for the last two stories...
"Of All the Plagues a Lover Bears" by Derrick Ferguson is the eighth story in the book, and this is another case of the title catching my eye. I'm not sure if the title of the story is a quote from elsewhere or not, as I didn't have time to seek it out, but it is spoken by the main character, Sebastian Red, during a quiet moment in the story. One of the very few quiet moments in the story, as it turns out, because this yarn is nearly wall-to-wall action. Sebastian Red is a large, powerful man with an ancient, 7-shot pistol on one hip and a 5-foot sword on the other. He rides an immense horse named Ra, and throughout the course of the story Sebastian Red outwits demons, tramples, guns down and slices zombies to ribbons, and burns an entire town to the ground. And yet, the dizzying pace of the action is framed by a love story between a man and a woman that struggles to breach the differences between them. Everything about this story is to the point, from the action, to the dialogue and beyond. Not a word is wasted, and you're swept along at a torrid pace as a result.
The ninth and final story of the book is titled "Out South of Borachon Creek" by Bill Kte'pi. The story is about a man named Frank Train living in a backwater portion of New Mexico. And when I say the story is about a man named Frank Train, that's exactly what I mean. We delve into everything that makes Frank who he is over the course of the story. We're introduced to his family, his job and the place he lives and what he thinks about each. Frank is in the midst of a bit of a mid-life crisis, and struggles to make heads or tails of things as he goes about his daily business. The story takes place in modern times, but the setting and the ruminations Frank goes through regarding his past and his present give the story a nostalgic feel. Frank eventually comes to a crossroads, both literally and figuratively, and runs across a mysterious man dressed as a scarecrow. The scarecrow and Frank talk about what it means to sell your soul in such a wistful and casual manner, and Frank decides to sell his soul to the man dressed as a scarecrow before they part ways. Frank returns to his life with his regrets, guilt and responsibilities still firmly in place. Did Frank really sell his soul? We never know for sure, but although the story doesn't end with a riveting climax, the realism inherent in the character of Frank makes for a completely relatable tale. I'm not sure how western it was, put it was plenty weird... and plenty good.