Today my husband and I went to The Motor City Comic-Con, or as we call it, "The Geek Jamboree". We've been going for about a decade now, and as always, we picked up lots of neat stuff and met some cool people. It was while doing the latter that I also received a slight buzzkill.
Let me rewind a bit. Eight years back, not long after DC announced they were giving Jonah Hex a new series, I stumbled across some sketches by Tony Moore, the original artist for The Walking Dead. Suffice it to say, I got a mite excited: I love his work, and the notion of him doing Hex just lit up my brain like wildfire. I went so far as to hunt down his email address and ask him directly if he was indeed working on the upcoming book (this was long before DC revealed Luke Ross would be doing the initial art chores). Mr. Moore was kind enough to send me a reply saying that, sadly, we wasn't the lucky artist, but he loved the character and wished he could do something with him in the future.
Cut to this afternoon, and my husband and I walking up to Tony Moore's table to get our Walking Dead Season 1 DVD signed (we already had Michael Rooker sign it last month at Motor City Nightmares, and we were hoping to add Norman Reedus as well today, but his line was -- no joke -- at least a half-mile long, all twisty-turny like you see at Disneyland). After he signed it, I mentioned the email, and said that I'd still love to see him do at least a cover. That's when the buzzkill happened: Tony Moore was slated to do a Jonah Hex story before the "New 52" reboot occurred. Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray had written a story just for him, an "evergreen" that wasn't time-sensitive -- this was common practice on the series, as it allowed many artists who may not have time to do multiple issues to do the story at their own pace -- and just as Moore cleared his schedule so he could get to work on it, DC changed Jonah Hex to All-Star Western, thereby tossing the "done-in-one" format out the window and committing the title to a single artist.
I was so surprised by this that I didn't think to ask what the story was about, but that's kinda beside the point. How many other Jonah Hex stories will we never see because DC decided to reboot everything? How many scripts were written by J&J and passed out to various artists that never made it to pencil stage...and were there any that actually got finished, but now sit in DC's files unused because they don't fit the new format? I'm reminded of an anecdote told to me by Mark Texiera during another Motor City Comic-Con, about a Jonah Hex story he claims to have illustrated before the character was tossed into the future, but was never printed (Texiera did draw one "Old West" issue of Jonah Hex that saw print, in addition to the majority of his 2050 jaunt). It can't be verified that Tex's "lost" story ever existed at all, as no one's been able to locate the pages, and the artist seems to be the only one who recalls it. Now we can add at least one more tale to the M.I.A. list.
If I can find Moore's email again, I'll drop him a line and ask if he can give a summary of the script J&J wrote for him, so we can at least ponder what might have been.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Got a decent turnaround this time for Jonah Hex: Shades of Gray #13 over on DC2, which starts a new storyarc for our resurrected bounty hunter. It's called "Narcocorrido", and will either be three or four parts long, depending on how it paces out. Let me know whatcha think of the end of Part 1!
Sunday, February 10, 2013
I'm not even gonna try for an excuse this time. I know it's been months, I have no sense anymore of how to schedule things, I keep trying to get back into a rhythm and I'm failing miserably...but on the upside, when I do get the stuff written up and finished, it's really good!
So, anyways, Jonah Hex: Shades of Gray #12 is up on DC2 now, and to keep things interesting, it focuses mostly on Greg "Vigilante" Saunders this time around. Let me warn you, though, my editor found the tale a mite disturbing. And in other news, Dwayne over at Matching Dragoons posted the first installment of an interview with me regarding all the Hex-fics I've written over the years. Does being interviewed for a prominent Jonah Hex blog count towards my work being legit? Well, they do say you can't put it on the Internet if it isn't true...
So, anyways, Jonah Hex: Shades of Gray #12 is up on DC2 now, and to keep things interesting, it focuses mostly on Greg "Vigilante" Saunders this time around. Let me warn you, though, my editor found the tale a mite disturbing. And in other news, Dwayne over at Matching Dragoons posted the first installment of an interview with me regarding all the Hex-fics I've written over the years. Does being interviewed for a prominent Jonah Hex blog count towards my work being legit? Well, they do say you can't put it on the Internet if it isn't true...
Friday, February 1, 2013
1982-1983: The Other Woman
Mei Ling. White Fawn. Joanna Mosby. These are the names that would most likely come to a fan’s mind in the early 1980s if asked about Jonah Hex’s past relationships, though some might argue about what constitutes a “relationship”. Should single-issue flings count? How about the one-sided affair that is Emmylou Hartley? And just what sort of past did Jonah and “Widow” Lacey share prior to Weird Western Tales #20? Suffice it to say, Hex may like the ladies, but it rarely seems to turn out good for either party in the end, and as we proceed through Jonah Hex #65 (October 1982), Michael Fleisher, Dick Ayers, and Tony DeZuniga reveal to us that Jonah’s been carrying a heavy burden regarding one of those ladies for quite some time.
The issue begins with Jonah preventing a train robbery by the Crenshaw boys, and as some of the gang escapes on horseback, Jonah leads his own mount out of a livestock car and heads after them. Unfortunately, it’s nearly dark, so Jonah angles for the nearby town of Clearwater Springs, figuring on picking up their trail come morning. His arrival in town is witnessed by Walt Barstow, a crooked sheriff who’s not above fleecing the townsfolk for protection money. The sight of Hex sends Barstow into a panic, and he runs in the other direction, thinking, After all these years, he’s finally managed to track me down! He then ducks into the telegraph office to send a message to Rod Webster, “the only one of the old bunch who lives close by”. And who exactly is the “old bunch”? We find out not long after Barstow gets back to his office and tells his deputies (who are in on the protection racket) about Hex riding into town:
Seems that, back in 1859, Hex, Barstow, Webster, and four others were part of a scouting unit for the U.S. cavalry, overseen by a Colonel Marcus Wainwright, who was the father of the fine filly Hex is cozying up to in the picture. While Barstow doesn’t explain why Jonah’s presence has him so afraid, he does point out that, if they want to keep running their protection racket, they’ll have to gun down Hex!
The next morning, Jonah tracks the Crenshaw boys to some abandoned Indian cliff-dwellings. Whilst sneaking up to one of the buildings, Jonah overhears the boys talking about giving Sheriff Barstow his share of the robbery money, a fee for looking the other way whenever the gang’s in his territory. Though stunned by the mention of the name, Jonah puts his personal feelings aside long enough to round up the outlaws, then takes them to the next town over, figuring that “if Sheriff Barstow at Clearwater Springs really is in cahoots with ‘em, then thar shore ain’t no sense turnin’ these Crenshaw boys over tuh him!” Once he’s turned the gang over to the (more-trustworthy) authorities, Jonah sneaks into Barstow’s office under cover of night and begins searching for evidence that this sheriff and his old scouting partner are one in the same.
When he finds the picture, Jonah's mind reels back to much happier times, when he and the colonel’s daughter -- whose name was Cassie -- were fixing to get married. The day before the ceremony, Cassie headed to Portersville on the paymaster’s wagon to pick up her dress, leaving Jonah behind at the fort with her father. None of them were aware that Hex’s fellow scouts were planning on stealing the payroll they’d been sent to get, and they regarded Cassie as a small obstacle between them and a hundred thousand dollars. Barstow knocked her out cold, then he and the others abandoned her and the wagon in the middle of Comanche territory. Three days passed before Cassie was found and, in Jonah’s words, “whut we did find would make a growed man weep tuh look at!” His fiancée dead, Jonah vowed to hunt down those responsible, but remember, this is a much younger Hex than we’re used to seeing, one who lacked the experience needed to track down six men who’d all gone their separate ways once they had their money. Unable to find any trace of them -- not to mention getting swept up in the Civil War two years later -- Jonah’s vow went unfulfilled, though it’s obvious he never let go of Cassie’s memory in the ensuing fifteen years. One has to wonder if this heart-wrenching loss weighed upon him when he began to get feelings for Mei Ling, and to have the ghost of his lost fiancée suddenly appear in his life so soon after becoming separated from the woman he did eventually marry...well, a man can only take so many blows before he hits back.
Stepping out of the sheriff’s office, he confronts Barstow and his men in the street. The bounty hunter graciously offers the deputies the chance to skedaddle -- which they gladly take -- leaving the former scouts alone. Barstow fast-talks Hex into letting him ride out of town alive, but quickly turns his horse around and begins firing his rifle while Jonah’s back is turned, to which Jonah responds by throwing himself to the ground and shooting Barstow dead. As he checks the body, Jonah finds a copy of the telegram Barstow sent to Rod Webster. After fifteen years, the cold trail has turned red-hot, and Jonah Hex has to make a decision:
When JH#66 opens, we see Jonah riding up to the stage depot at Palomino Creek, where a group of men suddenly bushwhack him and haul him off to their hideout. The reason for this comes clear as their leader heads to the town of Willow Bluff hours away to inform Rod Webster that Hex is in their custody. Seems Webster -- who used his ill-gotten gains to become a banker -- paid these guys $10,000 to kill Hex before he could reach town, but they’re now demanding another ten thousand to finish him off, or else they’ll let the bounty hunter go free. Webster’s become somewhat lily-livered in the past fifteen years, and caves easily to the demand. Meanwhile, at the cabin hideout, Jonah’s tied up and thinking about how he was actually “fixin’ tuh let bygones be bygones” and let Webster and the others off the hook! Whether this is true or merely sarcasm isn’t clear, but seeing as how Webster hired these skunks to do him in, he now aims to make Webster pay his debt in full...but first, he has to free himself. After burning through the ropes on his wrists by cozying up to the fireplace, Hex fights his way out of the cabin and heads for Willow Bluff.
As soon as Jonah gets there, he tracks down Webster and delivers an ultimatum: Pack up and leave town by noon tomorrow, or stick around to face the consequences. Webster decides to go with a third option, namely talking his wife Stella into dolling herself up and paying Jonah a visit at his hotel room in order to...ahem...convince him otherwise. Before Stella arrives, however, we find Jonah lost in another reminisce about Cassie (one that pushes the Comics Code a bit!), so I’d reckon that his blood was good and hot when Stella knocks on his door. But once he finds out who she is, Jonah pushes her away right quick, and instead gives her an earful about why he’s got a vendetta against her husband. “An’ while yo’re at it,” Jonah says as he shows Stella the door, “whyn’t you go tell Mr. Webster fer me thet they got words fer men whut uses good-lookin’ women tuh transact their business fer’em -- an’ town banker shore ain’t one of ‘em!”
The moment Stella gets home, Webster demands to know what happened, and she tells him, adding that “inch for inch and pound for pound, that so-called ‘rabid mad-dog killer’ of yours is a better man than you are!” With that rebuke still ringing in his ears, Webster meets up with the gang he’d hired and demands that they kill Hex right now. They agree...in exchange for all the money in his bank! So the next morning, they all ride into town to clean out the safe, which doesn’t go unnoticed by the townsfolk. The mayor begs for Jonah’s help, and when that doesn’t work, he offers up a $2,500 reward. That gets Hex’s feet moving, and he jumps the gang as they exit the bank, killing one of them with some fast gunplay. Webster then has the gall to thank Hex for putting aside his grudge to stop the robbers, but the still-living gang members, not wanting to swing alone, begin to spill the beans about both Webster’s contract on Hex and his assistance with the bank robbery, a confession that about half the town is witness to. Now that Webster’s sure to be spending a long time behind bars, Jonah decides that’s fair enough punishment for what the man did fifteen years ago, and turns to leave. Webster cracks right then and there, grabbing a gun and opening fire on Jonah. Unlike with Barstow, Jonah simply turns around and takes aim at Webster, not firing a shot, knowing that the threat of killing the cowardly man is enough to make him crumple in the street and beg for his life. Moving to leave once again, Jonah is stopped this time by Stella Webster, who gives our hero a parting gift:
Surprisingly, Jonah never takes a moment to grill the quivering Webster about where the remaining four ex-scouts could be (remember, he stumbled across Barstow by chance, and that fella only sent a warning telegram to Webster). For Jonah Hex, the trail has grown cold again, so it appears there’s nothing to do but go back to his usual business in JH#67. Little does he know that the Willow Bluff bank robbery -- and his thwarting of it -- made the local papers, which did not go unnoticed by one of those former scouts. Unlike Barstow and Webster, Croy isn’t afraid to bring the fight directly to Hex, and he immediately hits the trail with the intention of hunting down and killing the bounty hunter. Cut to the Careysburg, New Mexico, where Jonah finds a trio of drunks bothering a saloon gal named Lisa: he knocks them about a bit, then he ends up spending the night with Lisa, who’s quite taken with the way Jonah handled himself with those drunks. Both she and Jonah get quite tippled themselves, and she takes to strutting around his hotel room wearing his hat, talking about how she’d love to be a man for one night just to act like he did. Unbeknownst to them, Croy has perched himself on top of the grain loft across from Jonah’s hotel room, and when he sees a figure wearing a cowboy hat pass in front of the window, he opens fire with his rifle, killing Lisa instantly. Certain that he was the intended target, Jonah grabs his guns and runs over to the loft, but the gunman is long gone. The next morning, as he’s arranging for a coffin for poor Lisa, Jonah’s accosted at gunpoint by the now-sober trio from the night before. Jonah presumes they’re responsible for shooting Lisa, and when they make ready to gun him down, he kills all three of them without hesitation. Thinking the matter finished, Jonah walks outside...and gets shot in the head by Croy, who’s hiding on a nearby rooftop.
Though it doesn’t kill him, the bullet does enough damage to keep Jonah hovering between life and death for over three days, during which Jonah relives Cassie’s death fifteen years previous. When the paymaster’s wagon never arrived at the fort, young Jonah and a few others set out in search of it and the men. Jonah already suspected theft even before they found the wagon in Comanche territory, now burned and battered, but with no bodies nearby to suggest a fight. And then they found Cassie:
When Jonah finally regains consciousness, word gets back to Croy pretty quick, and he sneaks into the doctor’s office in the middle of the night to finish Hex off once and for all. Too bad for him that Hex suspected whomever kept trying to kill him would try again, and though he’s surprised to see that his would-be killer is Croy, Jonah doesn’t hesitate to shoot when Croy suddenly whips out a derringer from a spring-loaded rig up his sleeve. So the score is now two murdering ex-scouts dead, one in prison, and three unaccounted for, but once again, we’ve got a cold trail, a fact emphasized by JH#68, which seems to forget all about the current storyarc until nearly midway through. It starts with Jonah arriving in Gravesboro and running into an old friend, Sheriff George Rehnquist, who apparently knew Jonah when he was a little boy (George asks how Jonah’s ma and pa are gettin’ by, plus inquires as to what the heck happened to his face -- this is very similar to an exchange with another old friend/lawman in Fleisher’s first Hex story, way back in Weird Western Tales #22). Jonah barely has time to settle into his hotel room before the town leaders are approaching him to replace George as sheriff. They think George is getting too old and soft for the job, and want Jonah to take over and clean up the town. Jonah refuses to usurp his friend, but he does agree to a deputy position, at least until things in Gravesboro settle down.
Cut to a scene hundreds of miles away, where a merciless hired gun named Farrell Kincaid is collecting a nice stack of cash for services rendered. As he departs, he mentions that he has some personal business to attend to...namely killing Jonah Hex! Yep, the fourth ex-scout has reared his head, and he soon rounds up the fifth: Shoshone warrior White Claw. Kincaid rescues the Indian right as he’s about to be hanged, and the duo ride off towards Gravesboro. In the meantime, Jonah has been saving George’s skin left and right, much to the old man’s embarrassment. “Ah’ve been sheriff in this town fer twenty-four years, Jonah Hex! An’ when Ah need back-up help from you, Ah’ll let you know!” he snaps, words that are still ringing in Jonah’s ears when he beds down for the night. As he slumbers, Jonah dreams of that long-ago day in 1859, when he had to go to Colonel Wainwright’s office and tearfully inform the man that his daughter was dead (a scene that Ayers & DeZuniga render with heart-aching detail). In his grief, the colonel locked himself inside his office, took out a revolver, and killed himself before Jonah and the others could break down the door. The past then melds with the present as Jonah wakes up to the sound of someone banging on his own door. When he answers, a man informs him that Farrell Kincaid rode into town an hour ago and began causing a ruckus at the saloon -- George tried to calm him down, but got killed for his trouble.
The last panel leads straight into JH#69, with Jonah showing up at the saloon to confront Kincaid. As the two of them have words, Hex spots White Claw in the mirror behind the bar -- the Indian had snuck onto the saloon’s second floor, and was readying to throw a tomahawk in the bounty hunter’s back. Jonah ducks just in time, whirling about to open fire on White Claw, while Kincaid pulls his own guns. Shooting from a position on the floor, Jonah kills Kincaid easily, but White Claw escapes and rides out of town. This leads to an hours-long chase across open country, with White Claw wreaking havoc along the way. First he kills a farmer so he can steal a fresh horse, then he tries to get the jump on a family camping out on the plain (lucky for them, Jonah passed nearby and warned them about White Claw just before the Indian grabbed their little girl -- two warning shots later, and the chase is on again). Jonah realizes they’re heading towards Shoshone village, and sure enough, he soon finds himself in the middle of an ambush. The Shoshone chief sides with White Claw, saying that, even if Jonah’s accusations are true, they’re nothing in comparison to what the whites have done to the Indians all these years. However, having heard of Jonah’s many exploits over the years, the chief says Jonah can go free if he survives “The Gauntlet”: a brutal test of stamina wherein a defenseless man must run between two columns of armed warriors, enduring their blows, and even if he makes it through, the man then must run for his life until he shakes off the last of his pursuers. Jonah manages to do both, accomplishing the latter by jumping off a cliff and into a raging river -- after swimming for his life, he reaches the riverbank and passes out. When he comes to three days later, he’s greeted by the last person he expected to see:
All things considered, it’s surprising that Jonah said “Mei Ling” upon seeing Emmylou Hartley and not “Cassie”, especially since they both have blonde hair. But never mind that, what’s this gal doing here? Seems Emmy has been in love with Jonah ever since he first kissed her in JH#50, and after Mei Ling left him and he hit the trail once more, she’s been following him (one must presume that she lost him for a while when he was in China, but I reckon we should never mind that too). When she found Jonah along the riverbank, Emmy managed to bring him to an old trapper’s cabin nearby, where she tended to his wounds. “I love you, Jonah!” she confesses, leaning close to him as he lays in bed. “You’re the only man I’ve ever really loved in my life!” Jonah responds by telling her to be careful of his busted ribs, so you get a pretty good idea of where the scene’s headed right before it fades out.
Three weeks later, Jonah’s moving up and about the cabin, and winter is setting in heavy outside. Jonah feels well enough to bring in some firewood, unaware that White Claw has tracked him down. The Indian pushes Emmy out of the way and goes after Jonah with a tomahawk. Since he’d been stripped of his weapons, Jonah has to rely on his fists and feet to drive White Claw outside, knocking away the tomahawk in the process. But then White Claw pulls out a knife, which he drives straight into Emmy’s chest when she tries to come to Jonah’s aid. Now remember, this is one of the men responsible for killing Jonah’s fiancée, so the sight of White Claw stabbing Emmy understandably makes Jonah go a little nutso: he grabs the axe from over by the woodpile, then proceeds to go to town on White Claw with it. Once he’s dead, Jonah carries Emmy -- who’s still alive but badly wounded -- inside the cabin as the snow begins to fall again. When JH#70 opens, we see Jonah burying White Claw’s body while Emmy watches -- after spending a month at that cabin, Emmy wants to leave, insisting that she’s recovered enough from her stab wound to make the journey. Jonah eventually agrees, and as they ride away, she asks if he plans on pursuing the last of the ex-scouts, to which Jonah replies, “All them things Ah tol’ yuh ‘bout happened some fifteen years ago, Emmy! Life’s too durned short tuh waste it nursin’ a grudge over fifteen years!” It seems Jonah’s letting the trail go cold on purpose this time, possibly because of Emmy’s presence in his life again (and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out once more her passing resemblance to Cassie).
Unbeknownst to Hex, the last member of the guilty party has decided to seek him out...and unlike the others, his intentions are noble. Ernest Daniels has done his best to lead an upstanding, pious life ever since he helped with that payroll robbery, even going so far as to donate most of his earnings over the years, but the guilt still gnaws at him. When he confesses his long-ago sin to the local reverend, he suggests that Daniels atone with Hex personally. Daniels later tells his sons, Jason and Tim, of the journey he’ll be undertaking, but not the reason for it (something that’s always made me scratch my head: his sons appear to be roughly 25-30 years old, so was Daniels already married at the time of the payroll robbery, or did his good deeds extend to adopting orphans?). Tim asks to come along, and Daniels agrees. Meanwhile, Jonah’s trying to sneak back into the Shoshone camp in order to retrieve his Colt .44 Dragoons and other belongings (yes indeed, that man loves them guns). He succeeds, but not without getting poked by an arrow or two. As Emmy bandages Jonah up by the light of a campfire, they hear gunshots in the distance. Doubtful that it’s the Shoshone but cautious anyhow, they saddle up and ride out, only to find the target is a horse-drawn carriage containing Daniels and his son. Jonah recognizes him immediately, but decides to put aside past grievances until after they’ve all gotten away from the unseen assailants (who are revealed to the reader as Daniels’s other son and a few hired gunmen -- seems Jason doesn’t want to wait for his inheritance any longer). What follows is a five-page, Indiana Jones-style escape across some foothills, down a cliffside, into a raging river (complete with perilous waterfall), and finally ending with them taking shelter inside a cavern...only for all of them to be knocked out by war clubs and dragged into the Temple of Doom. Okay, not really, but c’mon, what is this?
Thus are we introduced to the most unnecessary subplot to appear in a Jonah Hex comic to date. Seriously, we already have Jason Daniels trying to kill all of them, so why would Fleisher trot out some Indian that thinks he’s a manifestation of the Great Manitou? The guy rambles on for over two pages about the great war he’s going to start between the red and white man, just as soon as he reroutes the Rainbow River with dynamite, causing it to flood the nearby Campanas Valley (which just so happens to contain the town Daniels lives in). After “Manitou” is done speechifying, he and most of his followers depart, leaving one man behind to guard Jonah and the others. They manage to take out the guard easily, but as they are about to leave the cavern, Jason and his cronies show up. He tells his father at the beginning of JH#71 that he’s “sick and tired of listening to you preach your boring platitudes!” His father’s generosity disgusts him, and Jason wants all the money for himself, even if it means killing family members to get it. Jonah tries to talk some sense into the man, but the moment he realizes it’s not working, he pulls leather and shoots all three of Jason’s hired gunmen. Panicked, Jason dives for cover and begins firing blindly, nicking his father in the head. Knowing that they can’t waste any more time with this nonsense, Jonah shoots at a stalactite directly above Jason, causing it to plummet straight down and impale him. With that threat out of the way, Jonah grabs a horse and tries to stop “Manitou” and his men from flooding the valley, but gets shot in the leg by one of them before he gets the chance. As he goes over his options, Daniels catches up with him and, after lamenting to Jonah that he wants to atone for his past sins, Daniels confronts the Indians himself, an act that causes him to fall off a cliff with the dynamite, which explodes in midair. Jonah gets the drop on the remaining Indians (including the ersatz god), ensuring that the people in Campanas Valley won’t come to harm. Later, Jonah tells Tim Daniels that he’s sorry about his father’s death, saying that “he wuz a fine man!”
And so, the saga of Cassie Wainwright finally comes to a close...on page 10 of a 23-page story. If it hadn’t been for the inclusion of that “Great Manitou” subplot, we could’ve wrapped all this up last issue. There was really no point to padding out the story with that nonsense, unless perhaps Fleisher had planned on making “Manitou” a new recurring villain, since Jonah hands him over to the authorities instead of killing him. But since we never see the guy again, it’s a moot point. Now, before we get to the tale that fills up the remaining 13 pages, I want to mention a small change that began appearing on the cover with this issue. When Jonah Hex first got headliner status in Weird Western Tales #18 ten years earlier, DC gave him a logo of sorts, consisting of his name printed in a distinctive block style with minimal flourish (the oddly-shaped ‘A’ being the fanciest part). As of JH#71, the old logo is gone, replaced with a new one that looks much more ‘Western’ (a similar one was used on a subscription ad featured in JH#30). However, despite the outward change, they continue to use the old logo inside this issue, nor will it be gone from the covers for very long.
Okay, on to the second story: Jonah and Emmylou arrive in the South Texas town of Camelia Flat, where he tells the gal to get them a hotel room while he finds a doctor to look at his wounded leg. After they part, Jonah thinks he sees Mei Ling across the street, but when he limps over, he realizes it’s simply a woman with dark hair. Thar’s a lesson tuh be learned from all this! he says to himself, facing up to the fact that he’s still not over losing Mei Ling, and until he resolves those feelings, he doesn’t think he should trying to have a relationship with Emmy. However, when Jonah gets to the hotel to talk with her about this, he finds that she departed with two Mexicans, who left Jonah a note containing a parrot feather. Looks like El Papagayo has decided to mess with Jonah’s life again, but the bounty hunter isn’t dumb enough to just rush out after Emmy: he sends Colonel Sanchez (who’s teamed up with Hex twice before against El Papagayo) a telegram, filling the man in on the situation before Jonah crosses the border. Not long after he does so, Papagayo comes a-callin’ and tells his “old friend” that he wants to steal a priceless emerald necklace on loan to the President and his wife. Papagayo would do this himself, but it’s too dangerous, so instead, he wants Jonah to dress up like El Papagayo and steal the necklace in his stead so the bandito will get all the credit:
Stupid as it sounds, Jonah agrees for Emmy’s sake. One week later, “Jonah Papagayo” sneaks into the presidential palace and does the deed, grabbing the necklace right off the neck of Mrs. El Presidente, but before he can escape, he finds himself confronted by soldiers who, at the beginning of Jonah Hex #72 (May 1983), fill Jonah full of lead! The Mexican authorities later display “El Papagayo’s” dead body as proof that they’ve finally eliminated him, and word quickly gets back to the real bandito that Hex failed. Though the news upsets Emmy, El Papagayo is delighted: now that the authorities think him dead, he can make another attempt at the necklace while their guard is down. Meanwhile, two of his cronies are eager to get their hands on Jonah’s ivory-handled Dragoons, so they go and dig up Jonah’s body, only to be confronted by Colonel Sanchez and a very-much-alive Jonah. This is where things get complicated: somehow, the telegram Hex sent was enough to alert Sanchez of Papagayo’s plan before Hex even knew what it was, so the whole scene with him being gunned down was a ruse to make Papagayo think Hex was dead, all the while the Mexican authorities play like they think Papagayo is dead.
Confused yet? Doesn’t matter, because it all unravels when a gravedigger overhears Hex and Sanchez talking, then runs off to tell Papagayo. He soon gets the jump on Jonah and Sanchez as the necklace is being transported, then threatens to kill Emmy unless they hand it over. Unwilling to sacrifice her, Jonah pistol-whips Sanchez, takes the necklace, and rides off with Papagayo, who knocks out Hex just as soon as they’re clear of the Mexican troops. In gratitude for all Jonah’s done for him, Papagayo ties up Hex and Emmy, then tosses them down a dry well full of tarantulas. This isn’t as horrible as deathtrap as it sounds since, as Jonah points out, tarantulas bites aren’t poisonous (they do hurt like Hell, though), and after cutting through the ropes, they climb out of the well, then track down Papagayo to get the necklace back. It all turns out fine in the end, with the bandito in jail, Sanchez forgiving Hex for pistol-whipping him, and Emmy hanging off of Hex’s arm -- apparently that notion of Jonah leaving the gal ‘til he sorted out his feelings has been forgotten. And if that isn’t upbeat enough for ya, no one dies in this issue! That’s a strange occurrence for a Jonah Hex tale, but considering this marks his 100th issue since his debut in All-Star Western #10, (not counting specials or guest-spots), we’ll consider it Jonah’s way of celebrating the occasion. And he should enjoy it while he can, because in the coming months, he’ll find himself plummeting into the depths of despair, and when that’s over, his life will get even more interesting.
Friday, November 23, 2012
On November 23, 1963, the very first episode of Doctor Who, "An Unearthly Child", was broadcast on the BBC. Truth to tell, it was also broadcast the day before, but since that was the day President Kennedy was shot, nobody watched it. Lucky for us the BBC didn't count that against the show.
Though I'd forgotten about the anniversary until this morning, I actually spent part of yesterday dwelling in all things Doctor. My husband had stumbled across the above image whilst fiddling around with our new Android tablet -- it was featured in a Who-themed puzzle game -- so we were using our regular PC to hunt down the image's source via Google. In the process, I kept finding these cartoony images of various Doctors. It looked like Mike Kunkel going through a Gallifrey phase.
You know me, love my 'toons, so I kept clicking on 'em to figure out what it was. Turns out an artist named Rich Morris had constructed a Doctor Who fanfic comic called "The Ten Doctors", complete with cover. It ran from 2007-2009 and clocked in at 247 pages (plus a Christmas Special or two). I only managed to get through 30 pages of it last night, but I do plan on reading the entire opus, because so far it's funny, it's clever, it's adorable, and it's got more in-jokes than you can shake a sonic screwdriver at.
Speaking of adorable Doctory comics, you also might want to check out "Torchwood Babiez", created by Spastasmagoria and Jigglykat, this LiveJournal-hosted tale clocks in at 48 pages and almost wasn't finished due to computer hiccups -- it started in 2007, but didn't wrap up until 2011 -- thank goodness the creators persevered and fulfilled their original threat to "kill you with cute."
In case you hadn't guessed, it's very tongue-in-cheek, but there's some heartwarming moments as well. Unlike "the Ten Doctors", it's a pretty quick read, and remember, this is complete now, so keep going once you get to the "I'm so sorry" page.
As for myself and my hubby, we're going to settle down and watch "An Unearthly Child" tonight. If you have the DVD of the First Doctor's adventure, I suggest you do the same.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
1981-1982: Reunions and Regrets
Poor ol’ Jonah. His wife has left him, taking their newborn son along with her, and he’s all alone in the world again. You can’t help but feel pity for him. Well, maybe “pity” is too strong a word, as when we find him at the beginning of Jonah Hex #54 (Nov. 1981), he’s enjoying a hot bath in a cathouse whilst being attended to by a lovely gal in a corset and garters. Seems he found a good way to get over his heartache. This relaxing moment is soon interrupted by a couple of owlhoots hoping to catch Hex with his pants down (literally and figuratively). Our hero makes short work of them without even getting out of the tub, then gathers his things and leaves as the madam of the house complains about the mess he made. As he rides off, an agent of Hex’s old enemy Turnbull spots him and runs to the telegraph office to send a wire to Virginia. At the moment, Turnbull’s having a meeting with members of the Fort Charlotte Brigade, who’re telling him about how they blew Jonah up back in JH#36. Of course, we know they didn’t really blow him up...and Turnbull himself should know that as well, since he’d sent men to kidnap Jonah’s wife Mei Ling in JH#47! So not only did these fellas drag their feet when reporting back to Turnbull, but the old man’s forgotten all about the incident in-between, as evidenced by him smashing a liquor bottle in a fit of rage when Solomon comes in to tell him that Jonah’s alive and well in Clementine Springs. Thus begins another chapter in Turnbull’s long-standing vendetta against the bounty hunter:
Meanwhile, back in Clementine Springs, Jonah’s having a palaver with Colonel Sanchez, who hired him back in JH#9-10 to protect a load of gold bullion from El Papagayo. Well, it looks like the Mexican government needs Jonah’s help once more, this time offering him ten thousand dollars to bring the bandito in, since Jonah is the only one who’s ever escaped El Papgayo’s stronghold alive. After riding down to Mexico, Jonah disguises himself and sneaks into the stronghold, but El Papagayo soon flushes him out. He then cooks up an elaborate way to kill his “good friend”: Jonah is lashed to a wooden shaft in an old dry well, with a burro (which Jonah calls a “burrito” in an amusing misprint) harnessed to the shaft in order to turn it -- whereas this action would normally draw up water, it will now slowly strangle Hex to death! Lucky, Jonah still keeps a knife hidden under his collar, and he cuts himself free. When he climbs out of the well, he’s met by a woman who’s also in the pay of Colonel Sanchez, and together they sneak out of the stronghold...only to be met by four members of the Fort Charlotte Brigade!
When JH#55 opens, we find that the woman has also been paid by these men to bring Jonah to them, though she doesn’t get to enjoy it for long, for El Papagayo has already found out about the double-cross, and shoots her from afar. The bandito figures that the Fort Charlotte men must be in cahoots with Jonah as well, and begins to chase all of them as the former Rebs try to escape Mexico alive. One by one, the survivors of Fort Charlotte are picked off, until the only ones who make it safely across the Rio Grande are Jonah, a man named Daltry, and Tim, a teenager who, while too young to have actually been in the War, has joined up with Turnbull’s group in his late father’s memory. Unlike the others, his hatred of Hex comes secondhand, and when the bounty hunter saves his life, he begins to have doubts about what he’s been told. Unfortunately, Daltry’s opinion of Hex hasn’t changed at all, and now that El Papagayo’s no longer after them, he decides to finish the job he came down to Mexico for: killing Jonah Hex. Tim tries to dissuade him, which causes Daltry to call Tim a traitor and shoot him in the chest. Jonah draws and kills Daltry in turn, then attends to the dying boy, who offers up forgiveness from both himself and his father, absolving Jonah of whatever he may have done at Fort Charlotte:
After that poignant ending, Fleisher, Ayers, and DeZuniga give us JH#56, wherein Jonah has to save a gal who’s been unfairly committed to an insane asylum, and later that same month, Jonah may have considered committing himself after experiencing the events of Justice League of America (vol. 23) #198 &199. Yep, after four years, writer Gerry Conway has managed to wrangle Hex into a another story with them long-underwear folk, but at least this time the bounty hunter didn't have to leave home. Our tale (rendered in stark lines by Don Heck & Brett Breeding) opens in 1878, with Jonah tracking a man across the Arizona desert...who is really of no consequence to the story, as he's never mentioned again once the bounty hunter crosses paths with Green Lantern Hal Jordan. Hal nearly blasts Jonah's head off with his ring, then passes out -- seems he's suffering from a touch of heat stroke, and considering that he almost killed Jonah a few minutes before, the gunfighter shows a remarkable amount of compassion by tending to the man until he regains consciousness. We soon find that Hal can’t remember anything about himself or how he got there, though he can recall vague images of a man laughing at him. “Sounds like you’ve got a real problem there, stranger,” Jonah says, his gun drawn just in case Hal gets trigger-happy again. “Don’t add to your problems by makin’ me an enemy.” Hal agrees, and the two men sit down to a campfire supper. This is the last we see of them for a while, as the rest of the comic focuses on other JLA members -- whose memories have also been erased -- running into other DC Western folk. First, lady gunslinger Cinnamon saves Zatanna from a saloon full of drunk cowboys, then Elongated Man keeps Scalphunter from being munched on by a cougar, and finally we see Bat Lash meet the Flash (Barry Allen, that is) right before the story shifts to “present day” 1981. Superman’s searching the Grand Canyon -- the last place the missing Leaguers were seen -- when he runs afoul of a Kryptonite-laden trap set for him by the Lord of Time, who’s been laying low since the train-wreck that was JLA #159-160. His newest plot involves an antimatter bubble that will explode over the Grand Canyon in 1878: in order to harness its power, the Lord of Time kidnapped these four superheroes and sent them to the Old West, believing that, even in their amnesiac state, they’ll see the antimatter bubble as a threat that must be contained and keep it from exploding, after which the Lord of Time will collect it up and harness its power to make himself (in his own humble opinion) “master of the world!”
The next issue centers around the Leaguers and their new friends meeting up and comparing notes. Considering that they’re guest-stars in this book, the Western folk actually come off pretty good, possibly due to Conway’s many years of writing Scalphunter’s adventures in Weird Western Tales (which he manages to sneak in a brief reference to). Hex and Jordan are the last ones to join up with the party, and due to this, they get a little extra face-time as they ride across the desert (with our emerald knight galloping along on a ring-generated horse, no less). There’s a good two-page scene wherein they discuss the importance of a man’s name, in the sense that it’s the basis for your reputation (about which Jonah knows a good amount), and not long after, we get down to some gunslinging when Jonah spots someone who’s been following the duo as they make their way to the town of Desecration. Hal immediately chastises Jonah for the gunplay, calling him a “crazy murderer”, to which Jonah coldly replies, “Watch who you’re calling crazy, son.” We soon discover that Jonah was justified, as his target in the cowboy duds turns out to be a robot sent by the Lord of Time to keep tabs on Hal...and, apparently, eliminate Jonah! Still adamant about not killing anyone (or anything, in this case), Hal tries to restrain the robot, while Jonah figures restraint isn't worth the trouble and dispatches it posthaste:
They soon meet up with the rest of our heroes, and as they try to sort out what in blazes is going on, Scalphunter spots three more cowboy-bots riding north -- as they follow the bots (and Flash accidentally destroys one of them!), they soon get the suspicion that they’re being led into a trap. They’re half-right: they end up at the Grand Canyon, which is where the antimatter bubble that the Lord of Time wants them to capture is supposed to hit. Then, without any noticeable provocation, Jonah declares that he’s going to scout around for their quarry, and the other three Western folk soon follow, leaving the four Leaguers scratching their heads. Turns out the locals put two and two together faster than the tourists, and have decided to turn the tables on the bots, luring them away from the Leaguers and destroying them so that the long-underwear folk can get on with the reason they were brought to this time. Once that’s done, the story wraps up rather quick: the Leaguers manage to keep the antimatter bubble away from the Earth so it can explode in space (which, thinking about it, would change history, since the Lord of Time said that it originally exploded directly over the Grand Canyon and wiped out all life for miles around...oops?), and Superman apparently defeated our villain off-panel before the energy could be collected, then brought his friends back to their proper time period (along with their memories, somehow -- this tale is a very short on explanation in a lot of areas). As for Hex and his pals? They never even got a chance to bid farewell, and are left to wonder just who those masked men (and lady) were:
After Hex’s newest brush with the future, he gets a visit from the past in JH#57, dated February 1982, meaning a decade has passed since Jonah Hex made his debut in All-Star Western #10. And what a way to mark the occasion: seems he got a letter from his mother, Ginny, whom he hasn’t seen in 27 years (and we haven’t seen since her first and only appearance in the Super-Star Holiday Special two years back). After Jonah meets up with his mother, he finds that she’s fallen on hard times: living in a dingy room adjacent to the local stable, and two thousand dollars in debt to a gambler named Dirk Jagsted, who will mostly likely kill her if he doesn't get his money soon. Jonah takes it all in stride, promising to have a word with Jagsted first thing in the morning. While his mother sleeps on the small mattress in the corner of the room, Jonah sacks out nearby on his bedroll and thinks back to June 1848, the last time he saw her. The flashback begins with a young Jonah defending his mother’s honor: a group of boys insist that Ginny is a tramp, and have no qualms about beating the snot outta Jonah in order to enforce their opinion. The boy later makes his way home, where Ma tends to his bruised face and Pa berates him for fighting before leaving to make a moonshine delivery. Sometime afterward, a travelling salesman with the impressive name of Preston W. Dazzleby shows up and, after showing off a few of his wares, Ginny tells Jonah to go off to bed, but Jonah finds he can’t sleep, he’s still too angry about those boys insulting his Ma. The thought that anyone would dare to call his wonderful, caring mother a tramp actually makes him consider taking his father’s shotgun and seeking vengeance upon them. It just makes what’s to follow all the more heart-breaking: when he hears laughter coming from the hall, Jonah gets out of bed, sneaks down to his parents’ bedroom, and sees Ginny and Dazzleby kissing and flirting while she packs a suitcase (wearing a new dress from Dazzleby’s own sample case, to boot). Going by the shocked look on her face, Ginny wasn’t planning on saying goodbye to her son, but now she has no choice:
As you’ve probably guessed, Ginny’s promise to send for Jonah went unfulfilled, and within three years, his Pa would sell him to the Apache, therefore severing any theoretical chance of her reclaiming her son. We will eventually get more answers regarding Ginny’s life after leaving Jonah, but those won’t come for another three decades, and even then, the question of whether or not Ginny Hex really was the whore many claimed her to be won’t be absolutely clear -- her decision to leave with Dazzleby could have been spur-of-the-moment, with no infidelities beforehand. At any rate, it’s the actions of a grown-up Jonah that now concern us, for Jagsted and his cronies have come a-knockin’ on Ginny’s door. Jonah cuts them all down within seconds, and when his mother dares to peer out the door, he tells her, “You don’t gotta worry ‘bout the debt no more, Ma! It’s been repaid!” He then presses a roll of bills into his mother’s hand before saddling up. She asks if he’ll come back to visit her sometime, and Jonah replies, “Sure, Ma! Ah be back to visit! Be back real soon!” She smiles up at him as he says it, but we know that he’s chosen those words with care, echoing the last thing she’d said to him before abandoning him to his father’s wrath, which surely must have increased once Ginny was gone.
One has to wonder if this childhood incident made Mei Ling’s sudden departure from Jonah’s life all the more painful, like a twisted replay of events from a new perspective. If so, then seeing his mother again -- and the memories it invoked -- most likely caused the opening scene of JH#59, a three-page-long dream sequence centering around Mei Ling being captured by Indians, then dying just as Jonah swoops in to rescue her. Once the nightmare’s over and Jonah’s awake, he finally admits to himself that “Ah ain't hardly been the same man since Mei Ling an’ the baby pulled up an’ left me!”
As Jonah leaves the hotel to get some grub, he’s accosted by six gunslingers, who he makes short work of, unaware that it’s a set-up to showcase his talents to a mysterious Chinaman watching from the shadows. Later, while Jonah’s in the midst of his meal, the Chinaman comes up and begins making small talk with him, during which he hands Jonah a white lotus blossom, the fragrance from which soon knocks Jonah out cold! More Chinese show up and, after locking Jonah’s unconscious form inside a trunk, sneak him out of town. Meanwhile, we learn that, since leaving Jonah, Mei Ling and the baby have been living with her brother and his wife, which means Mei Wong must’ve taken back his whole “disowning” statement from JH#45. The day after Jonah’s kidnapping, Mei Ling receives a letter, along with another white lotus blossom (not drugged this time). Though we don’t know the contents of the letter, it alarms her enough that she leaves the baby in her brother’s care and rides off, promising to return soon.
Jonah doesn’t wake up again until the beginning of JH#60, and after he KOs a bunch of Chinamen who try to restrain him, he soon finds out he ain’t in the West no more:
Before we go any further, let me inform you that the “Chinese” word balloons featured throughout this storyarc are filled with gibberish, a fact that’ll eventually leak out in the letter column when a fan writes in to complain. Lucky for us that Wu Bong Phat, the man who drugged Jonah and put him on a slow boat to China, speaks English. “Your services are sorely needed by the secret society which I serve!” Wu informs Jonah, and suggests that the gunfighter cooperate if he wishes to make it home alive, though what exactly his services are needed for goes unsaid. Months pass, wherein Jonah’s put to work on the boat, until one day when they’re attacked by pirates and the boat sinks. Jonah miraculously makes it to dry land where he’s found, exhausted to the point of delirium, by a Chinese fisherman. He and his wife spend weeks nursing Jonah back to health, but their kindness is repaid by bullets when the foot soldier of a local warlord finds them harboring this gwailo. Taken into custody, Hex once again finds himself in the presence of Wu Bong Phat, who escaped the pirates in a lifeboat. Seems the warlord is a member of the White Lotus Society -- the ones responsible for Jonah’s little trip -- and they are still insisting that the bounty hunter perform an unknown service for them.
After a pause, Jonah tells them, “Ah sorry to take so long answerin’, Mr. Wu! But yuh see...Ah never did learn how tuh say ‘Cram it’ in Chinese!” Undeterred, Wu then ups the ante by having a guard drag Mei Ling out from behind a curtain! We find out in JH#61 that the letter Mei Ling received previously said Jonah was in danger, and she had to save him -- once she arrived at the place stated in the letter, members of the White Lotus captured her. While Jonah finds hope for their relationship in her willingness to come to his rescue, there’s bigger concerns afoot, as it turns out the White Lotus Society wants Jonah to assassinate the current Chinese emperor. By using an Occidental of such lethal renown, they think their hand in the affair will be unseen. Mei Ling’s been pulled into this not only to ensure Jonah’s cooperation, but to help him sneak into the emperor’s palace: a White Lotus spy will slip her into the emperor’s seraglio, or harem, thus putting her in a prime position for the two of them to complete the task. Jonah has no intentions whatsoever of killing the emperor, and when he’s escorted to the palace in Peking, the only thing on his mind is finding Mei Ling (who’d been placed inside days before) and high-tailing it outta there. Unfortunately, the spy who’d gotten Mei Ling inside was captured not long after and ‘fessed up to the whole plan, so Jonah walks right into a trap as soon as he breaches the palace wall. When JH#62 begins, Jonah has literally been backed into a corner by a squad of gun-toting soldiers, who take him to the emperor. He knows that the bounty hunter wasn’t acting alone, and since Jonah refuses to divulge where Mei Ling is, the emperor has him dragged off to be tortured. They work him over pretty good, but he manages to polish off one of them just before Mei Ling busts in, armed to the teeth and ready to rescue her husband:
The couple make good upon their escape, which includes swinging from a chandelier and fighting off a snow leopard in the emperor’s private garden, and manage to lose their pursuers in the city, where a burly sailor by the name of Barnaby Sledge comes across them laying low in an alley. He offers to smuggle Jonah and his wife back to America, under the auspices of “us white men have gotta stick together in a pinch.” Jonah appreciates his help, but Mei Ling doesn’t trust the man, and tells Jonah so once Barnaby leaves them alone for the night. “There’s something wicked about him, Jonah! I-I can’t help it! He...he frightens me!”
“How ‘bout me, Mei Ling?” he asks, pulling her close. “Do Ah frighten you, too?”
“Yes, my darling! You...you frighten me, too!” she sobs, but lets him kiss her despite this. It’s the first tender moment they’ve shared since this whole mess started. The next day, as Barnaby takes the Hexes to the ship he serves as first mate upon, the emperor’s soldiers are waging war against the White Lotus followers. Their warlord leader drinks poison rather than admit defeat, and Wu Bong Phat escapes once again, this time vowing revenge against both Jonah and Mei Ling...which will go unfulfilled to this day (sorry to spoil it for you). That doesn't mean our happy couple is out of the woods just yet, because while they’re hiding out in the ship’s hold, they stumble across the cargo: opium! Now, before you go wondering why these drug smugglers would risk discovery by helping out a couple of strangers, we find out in JH#63 that they had already planned on adding Jonah to the crew (involuntarily, of course) and making Mei Ling the shipboard entertainment (most definitely involuntary!). Jonah manages to crack open Barnaby’s skull for getting them into this mess -- which earns Jonah a whipping -- but that only spares the sailor from the grief to come, for as we find out a few weeks into the voyage, this here is a plague ship. One by one, the men come down with cholera, and soon even Jonah is laid up in his bunk, delirious. Fleisher takes this opportunity to slip in a flashback to the winter of 1848 (and by “winter”, we’ll have to presume January or February, as this involves Jonah’s mom, and we now know she’ll be gone by June of this year). Woodson’s so angry at Ginny for “makin’ doe eyes” at another man that he’s fixing to carve her up with a broken bottle, but Jonah intervenes, which just earns the boy a beat-down of his own. Only the real-life screams of Mei Ling rouse Jonah from his nightmare, and he finds the ship’s captain assaulting her. Big mistake, one which the captain pays for with his life. Unfortunately, this leaves them without anyone healthy enough to navigate the ship, for the only other able-bodied crewman left is the ship’s doctor.
For twenty-two days and nights, the ship meanders across the ocean, until a storm smashes it against some rocks -- Mei Ling makes it safely into a lifeboat, but Jonah has to fight his way past a pair of hungry sharks (and nearly lose his leg in the process) before he can reach it himself, and the two of them are picked up a week later by a ship headed for San Francisco. Once Jonah’s wounds are properly tended to and they’re certain that no more disasters are lurking on the horizon, Jonah and Mei Ling finally have a serious talk about whether or not their marriage can be saved:
While the ending of this five-part tale isn’t exactly unexpected -- did anyone really think Jonah and Mei Ling would become a couple again after this? -- the overall story does break Fleisher’s rule of “character moments trump action”, because while there were pages and pages of crazy action sequences, the amount of panels devoted to their troubled relationship are rather scant. I can tell you that, despite Mei Ling’s insistence, this matter isn’t completely resolved, and she’ll fall back into Jonah’s life in a couple of years. As for our hero, when we see him again in Jonah Hex #64 (September 1982), he’s still hanging around San Francisco and pining away for his absent wife, even as a lovely eighteen-year-old gal with a penchant for fibbing keeps throwing herself at him. Hex manages to resist his baser nature until halfway through the issue, but this is only a one-time fling. There is another gal, however, who’ll be occupying a good amount of Jonah’s time in the year to come...a ghost from the past who’s never been spoken of before, yet may have influenced many of his actions since.
ERRATA: Some elaboration on David Michelinie's previous work with Michael Fleisher has been added to Part 3, and there is now an Index for the entire History available at the bottom of each entry. You can also access it at any time from a link on the left-hand side of the main site.
ERRATA: Some elaboration on David Michelinie's previous work with Michael Fleisher has been added to Part 3, and there is now an Index for the entire History available at the bottom of each entry. You can also access it at any time from a link on the left-hand side of the main site.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Though I'm still in the process of getting my novel into printed form, I thought you fine folks might enjoy a sneak preview of what's to come. I realize that I haven't given any details as to what it's about, nor have I even told you the title, and for that, I'm sorry. Part of my silence has been due to me being paranoid about someone swiping my work before it's published, and the other part was an inability to settle on a decent name (the working title I'd been using when sending it out to agents and publishers was so generic that, when you type it into Amazon, 9,000 other books come up with the same title!). However, after a lot of brain-wracking and some inspiration from my cover artist, I think I've finally hit upon a title that sums up the work very well, yet hasn't been used hundreds of times already, and I've decided to unveil it here, along with the majority of second chapter. So cozy up to your screens, kids, and enjoy a taste of SWORDS & SIXGUNS: AN OUTLAW'S TALE, coming soon from Gunsmith Press!
(A summation of the previous chapter: Richard Corrigan, a twenty-something outlaw in New Mexico, is thrown in jail after a botched bank robbery -- one partner got away, the other was killed. In addition to the head wound he'd sustained during the robbery attempt, he's later given a good thrashing by the sheriff while trying to escape jail, and consequently passes out from all the abuse. While unconscious, he was a dream where he's about to hanged, only to be saved by a mysterious cloaked figure, who then tells him he must travel south across the desert until he finds a strange black stone -- to Richard, it looks an awful lot like a tombstone. Not long after waking, his partner recsues him from jail, and the two of them head out into the night, with Richard doing his best to convince himself that it was just a weird dream.
It not until a little while later that he realizes they're traveling south...)
We stopped riding about an hour shy of sunrise. There had been no sign so far that we were being followed, so we decided to let the horse rest a bit. Reeves led the animal over to a patch of dry grass to feed while I sat on the ground and dug through his saddlebag, looking for a bottle of anything. I found a half-full, unlabeled pint, took a swig, and deemed it good. “How long you think before they find out I’m gone?” I called over to Reeves.
“Don’t know. Maybe now, maybe by breakfast.” He walked over and sat down next to me. “Speaking of which, I’ve got some jerky in here somewhere.” He began to look through the bag himself. “You hungry?”
“I’ll stick with the booze. I need something to numb the pain in my head.”
“You’re lucky you still have a head.” He stopped rummaging for a moment, staring off across the open plain. “Christ, I still can’t believe Kennedy’s dead. We messed up real bad this time, Corrigan. If Carson was here, he’d…”
“Carson’s not here,” I snapped, “and he’s never gonna be here again. It’s been three years, so get used to it already.” I took a long pull off the bottle. “I’m sick to death of you dredging up his name every time we make one little mistake.”
“But this wasn’t just any mistake, we…”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Fine,” he said, and went back to looking for the jerky. He finally found it, and the silence stretched out between us while he ate and I drank. I knew that the alcohol wasn’t the best thing for me at the moment, but I was in so much pain that I didn’t give a damn.
After a few minutes, Reeves got chatty again. “So, which way do you think we should head?” he asked.
“Anywhere but south.”
“But we’ve been goin’ south. What’s wrong with it now?”
“I just don’t want to go any further that way, all right?” I knocked back some more liquor. “Dammit, Reeves, do you have to have a reason for everything?”
“In this case, yeah. I think that bullet knocked your brain for a loop, Corrigan. You’ve been actin’ strange ever since I busted you out.”
“I’m just tired and hurtin’ and sick of your whinin’. Leave me be.”
I realized then that he wasn’t going to let the matter drop. We rarely called each other by our first names -- old habit. “I had a really weird night before you showed up, Kyle,” I said as I placed the pint between us. I then began to tell him about the dream I had, the things I saw…or rather what I thought I saw. He just sat there and listened to me spill my guts. When I finished, I turned to him and said, “Well? Have I finally gone ‘round the bend or what?”
Now it was Reeves’s turn to take a swig off the bottle. “I don’t know,” he said after a moment. “The whole time we’ve known each other, you’ve always had bad dreams, but nothin’ so out of the ordinary. I mean, you don’t believe all that shit was real or anything, do you?”
“Hell no! But all the same, it was damned disturbing at the time, y’know?” I gazed up at the pre-dawn sky -- most of the stars had disappeared from view, but I could still make out one or two in the growing light. “I’ve dreamed before about dying, even wished for it quite a few times when I was awake, but this time…I was afraid, Kyle.” He raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing. “I was afraid of death, of that guy in black, of that…that thing he showed me. I just wanted him to shut up and let me go, but he kept on talkin’ and talkin’…” I closed my eyes and rubbed my hands over my face. “It felt real, every bit of it, maybe even more real than talking to you right now does.”
“Maybe we should quit,” he said after a while.
I dropped my hands to my lap and looked over at him. “Come again?”
“I said we should quit. Look, I don’t think you’re nuts, but you’re definitely starting to crack under the pressure. It was hard enough on you last year when Stewart died, but now Kennedy’s gone too, and…”
“Don’t…you…dare…” I held up a finger. “Don’t you dare drag Stewart into this.”
“I’m just saying maybe it’s finally time for us to walk away from all this, try and have a normal life.”
“And what makes now any different from last year? You didn’t even want to talk about it back then.” I stood up, knocking dust off my denim trousers. “Matter of fact, you called me a damn fool for bringing it up. Now you’re the fool.”
Reeves stood up as well, saying, “Hey, hold on, that was different.”
“No, it wasn’t. I told you that I’d had enough, but you wouldn’t let me leave, not even after…after we lost Stewart.” My face felt hot, and I turned away from him. “I finally got the message then: we’re stuck in this business until the day we die.”
“That’ll be a lot sooner than later, the way you’re going at it. Y’know, for somebody who just admitted that he’s afraid to die, you sure are doing your damnedest lately to get planted in the ground.”
“So maybe I am crazy, then,” I muttered. “Maybe the only way to make sure I stay alive is for you to stick around.”
“Richard, I’m serious.”
“So am I.” I turned back around enough to look at him, then waved a hand at the endless expanse surrounding us. “I don’t know where you plan on running off to, anyhow. You know as well as I do that it doesn’t matter where we go, we’re still criminals. It’ll catch up with us eventually, so why even bother tryin’ to get away from it?”
He tried to stare me down, but he slowly began to see the truth in what I said. And why not? He’d told me nearly the same thing a year ago. “All right,” he said with a sigh, “I’ll stay.”
I bent over and picked up the pint. “That’s good to know,” I said, then took a drink.
“You gotta do me a favor, though.”
“Sure thing. What is it?”
“Number one: Stop drinking.” He plucked the bottle out of my hand. “Number two: We keep going south, strange dreams or not.”
“What the Hell for?”
“Because you need to see a damn doctor, that’s what for.” He jerked a thumb southward. “I remember somebody in Barrelhead saying there’s another town a few hours away. I know it’s a risk and all, but you look like Hell, partner. You need some rest, I need some rest…maybe we’ll get lucky and somebody’ll be willing to hide us for a couple days.”
I scoffed, but he had a point: alcohol would keep the ache in my head and ribs at bay for only so long. Still, I couldn’t shake the fear that dream had put in me. It’s nothing, I told myself, you just had a nightmare, same as you have damn-near every night. This one was just a mite scarier than usual, that’s all. You can’t keep hesitating like this. “Damn it all to Hell,” I muttered, and rubbed my eyes.
“Come on, Corrigan,” Reeves said, “the only way you’re gonna get over this whole thing is by facing your fear.”
I grunted, then said, “Fine, let’s get moving. Daylight will be here before we know it.”
We saddled up again, same as before, and continued heading south. I shaded my eyes from the growing dawn from time to time, peering first behind us to check for any signs of a posse, then ahead to where this town was supposed to be. For the first fifteen minutes, I saw nothing but desert and scrub brush in either direction, then I began to make out a few squareish shapes to the south. I thought I saw a gleam that might have been sunlight bouncing off glass or metal, but it was too indistinct at that distance. I did point it out to Reeves, however, and he urged the horse to move a little faster.
As we got closer to the town, I could feel that knot in my stomach return with a vengeance. Neither one of us saw anything moving, nor could we hear anything besides the soft jingle of our gear and the horse’s hoofbeats on the hard New Mexico plain. Not very encouraging, to say the least. About a hundred feet or so from the first building, we stopped at a billboard covered in signs and adverts for the various goods, services, and nostrums this particular town could provide you with. Barely visible beneath all this nonsense was a wooden placard declaring:
God Bless You All!
At least that’s what it must have originally said -- someone had taken some red paint and written “SAVE” in huge letters over the word “Bless”. Religious nut, probably. I looked past the sign at the town itself. The buildings seemed well cared for, but there appeared to be no life in or around them -- not so much as a fly buzzing a manure pile, even. “You sure those folks in Barrelhead weren’t talking about a ghost town?” I asked Reeves.
“Pretty sure,” he answered, but I could hear the doubt in his voice. “Maybe this is an ambush, you know? Maybe that posse chasin’ after me last night headed up thisaway.”
“If that’s so, they sure are bad at being nonchalant about it.” I pulled my gun and told him to go forward.
The horse, unfortunately, had other ideas. When Reeves tapped it in the side with his spurs, it refused to move. He gave the reins a tug and tried again, but the dumb thing just shook its head and whinnied. “What is this, you on a lunch break or something?” Reeves said. “Get moving!” He dug his spurs in, and the horse got moving all right: it reared up, screaming and kicking its front hooves in the air. Not sitting in the saddle proper to begin with, I flew right off and hit the ground butt-first. I scrambled away on my hands and knees, trying to get as much distance as I could between me and the horse, while Reeves hung on for dear life and struggled to get it under control. The two of them danced around for a minute like some crazy rodeo act before Reeves gave up and jumped off the horse. The moment he left the saddle, the horse broke north, back the way we came, foam flying off its muzzle. We just sat there and watched it go, helpless to do anything but choke on trail dust.
After a minute or so, I got up, walked over to where my hat landed when I fell, and picked it up. I whacked it against my leg a couple times to knock off the dirt before putting it back on, saying, “Well, at least now we know there ain’t no ambush, ‘cause if there is, they missed a perfectly good opportunity to blow us both to Hell.”
“I don’t know what happened,” Reeves said, gesturing in the direction our ride went -- he was still sprawled out on the ground. “I’ve never seen a horse go crazy like that for no reason.”
“Maybe it just got sick of us riding double.” I looked down the main street of Hadley. “There’d better be somebody here,” I said, “or else we are in serious trouble.” I began to walk into the town proper, revolver out and cocked. Reeves followed a moment later, pausing only to collect his Winchester which, thankfully, had fallen out of the saddle holster before our mount took off. The town was small, but it appeared to be prosperous, despite being in the middle of nowhere. I noticed that many of the doors and windows were boarded up (from the inside, no less) and drifts of sand forming on parts of the boardwalk, but otherwise, it looked inhabited.
There were just no people.
Reeves stepped up onto the boardwalk and poked his head into one of the few open storefronts: a tailor and dressmaker’s shop, according to the sign above the eave. “Hello?” he called out. “Anybody in here?” No one responded, but he went inside anyways. I continued on down the street, searching for any clue as to why this place was deserted. As I approached the first cross-street, Reeves shouted my name, so I turned around and ran back to the shop. He was leaning against the doorway, his eyes wide and face pale.
“What is it? You find somebody?” I asked as I hopped up onto the boardwalk.
“Sort of. You’ll see.” He nodded towards the shop, then pulled the bandana hanging around his neck up over his mouth and nose before heading back inside. I followed a few paces behind him, taking in the scene: the whole store was in disarray, with everything that wasn’t nailed down tossed about. Bolts of cloth and pieces of garments were strewn across the floor, and a dressing dummy had been knocked over in one corner, the fabric-covered chest shredded open. “What the Hell happened in here?” I wondered aloud. “Indian trouble, you think?”
“This is nothing,” Reeves said, a slight tremble in his voice, “you gotta see the upstairs.” He led me to a stairway at the back of the shop, then turned to me and tugged slightly at his bandana. “You might want to do the same.”
I didn’t get what he meant, then I noticed the smell: a gut-twisting, rancid stench, like a carcass left out in the sun for a few days. I had an inkling of what Reeves found and pulled up my own bandana to stifle the smell. He led the way up the stairs, and I followed with absolutely no desire to see what the source of the smell was. At the top was an open door, cracks in the wood near the handle and hinges from Reeves forcing it open, and bloody scratches all over the surface from someone -- or something -- that tried to do the same before him and failed. Beyond the door, the second floor opened up into one huge room -- it must have served as the home for the shopkeeper’s family. There were a couple beds along one wall, a table and chairs along another…and about ten dead bodies. They were scattered all about the place, some laying on beds, others sprawled out on the floor, but they all looked the same: skin shriveled and turning black, eyes bulging from bloody sockets, and expressions of pure terror carved into every face. I staggered back slightly, fighting the urge to throw up. “Sweet Jesus,” I whispered, “what did this?”
“I was hoping you might know,” Reeves answered. “The door was blocked from the inside, but it gave way after a couple shoves. There’s no wounds that I can see, no signs of a fight.” He threw his hands up in exasperation. “These people barricaded themselves in here and just died.”
I took off my hat and waved it in front of my face to disperse the stench a bit. “Maybe there was an epidemic, like typhoid or cholera…they could’ve been quarantined up here.”
“Then why was the barricade on the inside of the room? It’s like they were hiding from something.”
“Yeah, but what? And for how long?”
Reeves shrugged. “Got me. These people could’ve died yesterday or a month ago for all I can tell.” He walked over to one of the bodies laid out on a bed: a man, judging by the clothes, but that was the only distinguishing feature left of the original person. The skin on the face had stretched tight in the dry heat, giving it a leering, skull-like appearance. Its milky-white eyes stared up at the ceiling, and a few wisps of hair still clung stubbornly to the peeling head. Reeves leaned over for a closer look, muttering, “Hell, could’ve been a year ago…”
Suddenly, the corpse reached up and grabbed Reeves by the arm, then sat up straight. “Warm…” the thing hissed out from between its cracked lips. “You’re warm…so cold down here…”
Reeves screamed hysterically and tried to push it off, but it wouldn’t let go. I just stood there watching the whole thing, too much in shock to scream myself. The thing managed to get to its feet, then yanked off Reeves’ bandana and wrapped its bony arms around his waist -- it looked like it wanted to kiss him. “Shoot it!” he ordered as he forced the thing’s putrid face away from his own.
“I can’t! I might hit you!”
“Do you really think I care about that right now? Shoot the damn thing!”
Without thinking twice about it, I brought my gun up and fired. The bullet neatly pierced the corpse’s skull, then embedded itself in the wall behind them. The corpse stiffened for a moment before slumping to the floor, lifeless again. Once it was down, Reeves began to stomp on its head until it split open. The blackish ooze that splattered all over his boot was like nothing I’d ever seen before, especially not coming out of some guy’s head. Reeves barely took notice of it, he just kept kicking and stomping on the corpse, snapping brittle bones and ripping open dead flesh. Throughout it all, Reeves’s face was locked in a tight grimace, his breath whistling in and out from between his gritted teeth.
“Reeves, it’s dead, stop it already,” I told him, grabbing his arm. He just shook me off and kept on kicking. “Reeves…Kyle, stop it!” I shouted, this time taking him by the shoulders and pulling him away from the body. He stared right through me for a moment, the expression on his face probably quite similar to the one I’d had when he broke me out of jail the night before. My distress, however, had been brought on by nothing more than bad dreams, while what he’d just experienced was much more horrifying than anything I’d gone through in that cell.
“Corrigan?” he said after a time.
“You can let go now.”
“Huh? Oh, sure.” I took my hands off his shoulders, and he stepped away from me, his hands trembling slightly. I couldn’t blame him. “C’mon,” I said, hitching a thumb towards the door, “let’s get the Hell out of here.”
“No!” He shouted so loudly that I jumped back a little. He then slipped his rifle off his shoulder. “We’ve got to get the rest of them!”
“Rest of…Reeves, they’re dead already, remember? You checked them yourself.”
“I checked that thing too,” he answered, pointing at the mangled corpse that attacked him, “but it wasn’t dead. Leastways, not all the way dead.” He cocked the rifle. “I’m not taking any chances with the rest of ‘em.”
“Christ, Reeves,” I muttered, then reached out and tried to pull him towards the door. As my hand came towards him, though, he pointed the rifle straight at me. He said nothing aloud, but I could read the look in his eyes well enough: if I tried to stop him, I’d get a bullet in my own head for my trouble. I’d never seen him act so crazy before. Yeah, I told myself, like you’ve been a perfect example of sanity lately. I swallowed hard, then said quietly, “I’m going downstairs. You’ve got five minutes to do whatever you want up here, then we light out of this place. Okay?”
“Okay,” he replied, but he didn’t lower the rifle. I stepped backwards through the doorway, then turned and went down the stairwell, half-expecting Reeves to take a potshot at me behind my back.
The first shot went off as I reached the ground floor -- I flinched at the sudden roar that shattered the dead quiet. “Just save some bullets for the posse, Reeves,” I mumbled as I pulled down my bandana and took in a lungful of fresh air. It tasted good, and I leaned against the shop’s counter to drink it in. My head was beginning to pound again -- coupled with that stink upstairs, it made me feel like I might puke for sure. God, I needed some sleep. That, and some real food and some decent doctorin’, and I’d be tip-top again. But with a posse potentially on our asses, no horse, and Reeves trying to kill dead people, it didn’t look like I’d be getting any of that anytime soon.
As I stood there listening to Reeves’ intermittent rifle shots, I spied a notebook of some sort laying on the floor. Needing a distraction, I picked it up and began to flip through it. It contained nothing terribly interesting at first -- records of payment, measurements, idle sketches -- but the last entry definitely caught my eye: “Sep. 3-74: blue Gingham dress, Mrs. D. Foley - $2.00”. It wasn’t the merchandise so much as the date that held my attention. Unless I had my days mixed up, it was already the twelfth of September, which meant this entire town had quietly dropped dead within nine days. That didn’t seem possible, especially with Barrelhead being only six hours away at most. The whole time we’d been casing out the town for our bank job, none of us had heard about an epidemic or Indian attack or anything happening right down the road. We sure as Hell didn’t hear about any walking corpses, either.
I walked out of the shop and back into the street, anxious to find some more clues to clear up this mystery. It wasn’t as easy a job as I hoped, for I soon discovered that most of the other buildings were boarded up pretty tight. When I could get into a place, I found nothing other than more dead bodies -- luckily, none of them moved. I was about to give up and head back to Reeves when I spied some piles of dirt and lumber near the edge of town. Probably some sort of mass grave, I figured, but I decided to check it out anyway. As I got closer, I could see that it was some sort of shallow pit, no more than two feet deep, and I realized that it was the beginnings of a cellar -- someone had started work on a new building before the whole town kicked off. No big mystery about that.
Then I saw the black object from my dream laying right in the middle of the cellar pit.
My blood turned to ice as I stood there, rubbing my eyes and hoping it would disappear. It looked just like I remembered it: a pitch-black stone, about eight feet across and eight-sided, and every inch of its surface covered in strange symbols. Oh, God, this can’t be real, I thought, and tried to shout for Reeves, but my voice was gone, just like in my dream. Before I even realized what I was doing, I stepped down in to the pit and approached the thing slowly, stopping a few feet away from it, a sickening feeling of dread filling my gut. The stone stuck up out of the earth about two inches, and it appeared that someone had attempted to pry it out even further with a couple of crowbars, which were wedged beneath one end of the massive slab. In the center was a fist-sized hole, the same shape as the stone itself. That hole seemed important, but I couldn’t remember if I’d seen anything in there in my dream. But it was only a dream, I thought, how in the world can this be possible? Then again, I’d also just seen a corpse get up and attack my friend -- up until we got to this place, I wouldn’t have thought that was possible either. Were the two things related somehow? Hell, I was just a bank robber, what did I know about crazy things like this?
My ruminations were cut short by a quick, sharp crack of thunder. I looked up and saw ugly black storm clouds rolling in from the west, which was puzzling, as the sky had been mostly clear when we’d arrived. I dug out my pocket watch to check the time, and realized that I’d been so focused on checking out the town that I’d lost a half-hour. I cursed myself for not paying closer attention. In our situation, rain was a mixed blessing: it’d cover our tracks if we hightailed it across the desert, but we’d also get soaked to the bone. I decided to go find Reeves and weigh our options, not that we had many. As I walked back to the edge of the pit, I caught a sparkle of something out of the corner of my eye. Curious, I bent down and pulled out of the dirt a bluish-green shard of quartz crystal, about three inches long and as thick as my thumb. The colors within appeared to swirl and pulse with warmth in time with my heartbeat as it sat in my palm, which I thought was rather strange. Even stranger still, the feeling of dread inside of me seemed to pass the longer I held onto it. I ran the pad of my thumb along the shard, and as I did so, I noticed the edges of it were jagged, like it had broken off of a larger object. I glanced back at the black slab, thinking perhaps that this was what went in the hole, but if that was so, then where was the rest of it?
Thunder rumbled overhead again, bringing my attention back to the more pressing problem. I tucked the crystal into my shirt pocket, figuring on giving it a closer look later, and continued on my way back to the shop where I’d last seen Reeves. I was halfway there when I felt the first droplet hit my cheek, then another as the clouds ripped open over the wide New Mexico plain. The main street quickly began to turn into a muddy mush that sucked at my boots with every step, and the rain rolled off the brim of my battered hat like a waterfall. Slogging across the plain in this mess isn’t going to be much fun, I thought.
I found Reeves outside the shop, sitting on the edge of the boardwalk with his head hanging low. His Winchester was laying beside him, inches away from being soaked by the downpour. He didn’t even look up when I hopped up onto the boardwalk and approached him. “Reeves? You okay?” I asked, but I got no response. I knelt down beside him and went to touch him on the shoulder, then stopped when I saw that his entire body was trembling. “Reeves...hey, c’mon, you’re scaring me.”
“I g-g-got ‘em,” he finally stammered. “They’re all dead now, th-that’s for sure.” He then looked up at me, and I could see that his face was slick with sweat, coupled with a pale, feverish complexion.
“That’s good to know,” I answered, but inside I was panicking. Reeves was in no shape to travel, and I had a horrible feeling about what the cause might be. “You feel all right, partner?”
“S-sure!” he said, suddenly perking up. “Just a little tired, that’s all...just need to r-r-rest a bit...” His voice trailed off as his head dropped low again.
Oh God. “Kyle, listen to me: that stone in my dream that I told you about, it’s here, no bullshit. I don’t know what that means, but I doubt it’s good. You understand me? We can’t stay here.” He nodded, and I breathed a sigh of relief. “Good, then let’s get moving before this storm gets any worse.” I slipped a hand under his armpit and tried to pull him to his feet, but he was nothing but dead weight. “Come on, dammit!” I yelled, but once again, he didn’t respond. I managed to drag him away from the edge of the boardwalk, but when I let go, he merely laid there on the planks, breathing shallowly and moaning, “I’m c-cold,” an eerie echo of the corpse-thing’s ramblings.
This wasn’t right. Hell, this whole damn town wasn’t right. Berserk horses, dead people who didn’t stay dead, a disease that crippled you within an hour of catching it, things seen in dreams becoming real...what in the world had I walked into? I gazed out over the dead town, watching the sky light up in jagged patches from lightning, then shake from the deafening crack of thunder. One thunderclap seemed to go on forever, then I recognized it as the sound of horsehooves slapping the ground. I jumped off the boardwalk and into the street, staring towards the north through a sheet of rain. I couldn’t tell how many were riding our way, but they were coming in way too fast to be casual visitors. “Reeves, get up! We’ve got company!” I scrambled back to where he lay and tried to pick him up again, this time succeeding in getting him to his feet. He mumbled something, but I couldn’t make it out. “Look alive, pal. It’s time to show that damned sheriff why we’re worth two hundred apiece.” I slapped his face a couple times in an effort to rouse him some more, but all he did was loll his head back.
The posse was nearly close enough to see us by now, so out of desperation, I hauled him into the shop and dumped him behind the counter. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go pick up his rifle before the newcomers rode up the main street, their mounts bucking just as wildly as our own had done. I managed to shut the door before they passed in front of the shop, but between Reeves’s rifle and my muddy footprints, it wouldn’t be long before they figured out where we’d holed up. “Search every damn building!” I could hear the sheriff shout over the horses’ strangled cries. “Shoot those bastards on sight!” I hunkered down behind the counter, my pistol in hand as I stared hard at the door. The first one of ‘em that dared open it would get a bullet for his troubles.
“We’re gonna die, aren’t we?” I turned and saw Reeves attempting to sit up. His eyes were glassy, but he seemed coherent again.
“Nonsense,” I replied, “we’ll be fine. This is just like Saundersville.”
He coughed, making a thick, phlegmy sound. “Carson died in Saundersville.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t,” I answered sharply, then asked, “Did you see a back door in this place?” He shook his head. “Damn, that means we’ll have to run out the front. You up for some runnin’?”
“I...I don’t think I can do it, Richard. I keep...I’m not sure what it is.” He stared down at his shaking hands, saying, “It’s like I black out or something.” Someone outside started yelling -- I think they’d found some of those dead bodies -- and Reeves tried to stifle another cough. “Forget about me, get your own ass out of here,” he told me once he had it under control. He couldn’t do anything about the look of fear in his eyes, though.
“No way. You didn’t leave me to die in Barrelhead, so what makes you think I’d abandon you here?”
“I’ll slow you down.” We could hear more yelling, then a gunshot. “Besides, it’ll be easier if we split up. We can meet up somewheres later when it’s safe.”
I thought about it for a moment, then said, “You remember that old hidey-hole in Texas? By the river?”
“All right then, let’s both head there. If one of us doesn’t hear from the other in a month...” I let the thought trail off.
Reeves smiled. “You’ll make it, partner.”
“And so will you.” I stood up, saying, “Stay low for a little longer. Maybe I can take a few out before you go.” I made ready to run, opening up the door a crack to peer outside.
“You...you weren’t kidding about that stone, were you? Finding it here, I mean?”
I looked over at him crouched behind the counter. “No, I wasn’t kidding,” I replied. The expression on his face went from fear to utter disbelief. He opened his mouth, as if he had one more thing to tell me, but I didn’t bother to listen: I’d seen a chance to run and jumped out the door.
TO BE CONTINUED!