It’s almost pressie-time, and instead of my usual mid-weak writing post I’m offering up another excerpt from the short story ebook that will be available in the new year – this time from the first story, Thirteen Bullets. The book has just gone on pre-order on Smashwords, and if you sign up to my mailing list you’ll receive a delayed Xmas treat in the mail on January 5th. But first…
Last time I introduced an excerpt also unveiled my cover art. Now I’m doing that all over again, because I’ve had to make some changes to the cover in the last few days. So, with no more ado, the very final cover – followed by a guy in jail, somewhere between a rock and a hard place…
In the night, the screaming starts.
I’m on my feet pretty fast for a guy whose head feels like murder—what else?—but it’s not like I can do anything but listen. The drunk doesn’t even roll over.
It builds west of the jail, that’s the far side of town, ebbing and flowing. Coming this way. At first I’m thinking it’s a mob, riled up by the local Bible-thumper. Or maybe just by Joe Bellow, who did seem pretty keen to deal with me personally. But the more I hear, the less I think so.
I know the way folks scream, in anger, or grief, or panic and fear—which are two different ways, and very distinct. I’ve heard and sometimes caused them all. The noise coming from outside is a whole new way to let the world know you’re not happy with it. There’s a kind of uncertain madness laced all over it and that’s what frightens me.
Screams of madness are those of an individual, not of a crowd—except right now it sounds like they are. It’s like all those doing the screaming know perfectly well why they’re running scared, but don’t have the slightest comprehension of it at the exact same time.
It’s not a good sound. It isn’t improved by gunfire.
I admire the resources I have about me: my clothes, my boots and a bloody rag, three splinters, a wooden pot to crap in, and one fully working hand. I rattle the cell door with it, squint at the lock. I need a plan. Plus the key.
The screaming seems to move further away, then from the sheriff’s office I hear the familiar thud of someone bodily opening the door to the street. It bangs shut again. “What’s going on?” I start to call, but I stop when Bellow enters behind his long barrel pistol, an oil lamp in his free hand. He swings the piece from me to the drunk, and I can smell that he’s been shooting it.
The gun comes my way again. “Open wide,” he says, his lip sneering as he thumbs back the hammer. Looks like I was worth it after all.
“See you in hell, you bastard,” I say. Last words should be memorable, I always thought.
Bellow stares at me down the barrel, then lets out half a laugh and lowers it a little. “Already there, Leonard,” he says, and puts the lamp on the floor. “I have to tell you, I enjoyed our chats on the trail. All that science. Quantum dynamite, vanishin’ cats.” He reaches into a back pocket, fishes out a tin flask and spins the cap with his thumb. “A million-and-one worlds and a million me’s livin’ in them.”
Yeah, we had that conversation. He’d heard it all corrupted before I could tell the truth of it, of course. God-damned preachers always have to give it their spin and make the flock see a man like me as the bad guy. And reasonable debate always ends up with a shooting.
He raises the flask like a toast. “I don’t know if you’re a sorcerer, or one of them demon-oh-jists, or what you are, but you do tell a crack-pot good story.” He leans his head back and swallows it dry, then takes a shaky suck of air and levels the gun at me again. “That’s why I’m doin’ you this favour,” he says.
And pulls the trigger.