underwater scene with bubbles and sunraysI’m excited about Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited program – for just $9.99/month you get unlimited access to more than 600,000 ebooks and audiobooks – including ALL of mine! (All of my stuff is also available for borrowing via Amazon Prime.)

Speaking of audiobooks, I’ve been reWeed Audio w. Bainally busy these past few weeks, with the release of two audiobooks and a new novel which kicks off a weird western series!

AUDIOBOOKS

James Foster gives an inspired reading of DEATH SIGHT, the first novel in my Will Castleton psychic detective series. James is already hard at work at THE CASTLETON FILES,  which collects five stories about Will, and he’s also signed on to read GRAY LAKE, my crime/horror novel, in which Will makes a cameo…

Also just released is the audio version of WEED, a short crime novel I co-wrote with my buddy Daryl Burns, set in the fictional town of Green River, Michigan, where most of my stories take place, be they mystery or horror. Quintin W. Allen, a radio producer in Las Vegas, is the reader for this one – Quintin’s awesome vocals have wound up everywhere from museums to a leprechaun on a TV commercial and everyplace in between, and he brings WEED to rip-roaring noirish life! Quintin’s signed on to voice my TEN SHORT ESSAYS ON WRITING and my brand new RIDERS OF THE WEIRD WEST series.

Riders revised cover RIDERS OF THE WEIRD WEST

Speaking of which, Cowboys Possibleone of my most successful stories for years now has been THE COWBOYS OF CTHULHU, which appeared in the now sadly out-of-print AMAZING HEROES anthology of adventure stories. That little story has done pretty well as a stand-alone ebook, with many readers writing me, begging me to do more with the characters. So I did. The result is RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS, a full-length novel, the first in a series. I’m already a good way into the follow-up, THE ROAD GOES ON FOREVER.

I’m dedicated to the series, and, as proof of this, I’m planning on giving the third novel, SILVER STALLION away to members of my newsletter, THE FRIENDS OF BAIN.

THphoenix blood beforeE FRIENDS OF BAIN

What? You haven’t heard about my newsletter? Well, hey then! Here’s the scoop! Yeah, I have this newsletter where I not only have contests, but also give-aways and all sorts of other bonuses. What sorts of bonuses? Well, for example, if you go to my website, you can jump through an easy hoop or two and win a free copy of the audiobooks above – but members of my newsletter had a chance to grab them free just for being members, no hoops involved! I also give my most devoted readers a chapter of a serialized story every week! These stories eventually find their way to Amazon, but my newsletter friends get to read them first. I also make sure members of the newsletter are the first to know of new releases and receive them at a discount. And, oh yeah, you also get a free, member-exclusive Will Castleton story, PHOENIX BLOOD, just for signing up – and all members will get a new one, which will be exclusive to the newsletter for a year, on Christmas morning. You can sign up via this link!

ALSO AVAILABLE

You can pick up my latest short Will Castleton novel, THE HOUSE IN CYRUS HOLLER, in the star-studded horror anthology PIERCING THE DARKNESS, featuring writers like Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jack Ketchum, Kealan Patrick Burke, C. Dennis Moore, Jeff Strand, Gary Braunbeck, Jonathan Maberry, Gord Rollo and still others. It’s an amazing collection, and what’s more, it’s all for charity! The proceeds all go to support The Children’s Literacy Initiative.

CURRENTLY IN PRODUCTION…

In addition to the audiobooks James and Quintin are working on, I’m working on several writing projects this summer.

We should see METH, another short Green River crime novel, also co-authored by Daryl Burns, before fall. I’m hoping Quintin will bring his awesome vocal skills to this one as well. You can read the prologue at this link.

My big project, however, is PURGATORY BLUES: A WILL CASTLETON NOVEL, the direct sequel to DEATH SIGHT. It will also be something of a sequel to GRAY LAKE and WEED, featuring elements of those books as well. You can read the prologue here.

And that’s not all the Will Castleton news! C. Dennis Moore and I have been working on a book called RETURN TO ANGEL HILL, which takes Will to Dennis’ haunted Missouri town, the setting of Dennis’ bestselling horror novels such as THE THIRD FLOOR, THE GHOSTS OF MERTLAND, THE MAN IN THE WINDOW and THE FLIP. This might be the biggest threat Will has faced to date! You can read the prologue here.

While James Foster is starting to narrate books by bestsellers like Bill Crider and Chris Philbrook, I’m already hearing his voice as the voice of Will Castleton, and I’m hoping he stays on for these two novels!

 

Here are the table of contents for and first four chapters of RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS: AN EXCEEDINGLY WEIRD WESTERN NOVEL. The only manuscript I’ve found is in an old paperback (see a few posts back for details). The novel’s due out in Kindle and various other ebook formats and as a new paperback as soon as I can find the time to finish retyping it.  The story prominently features at least two characters from my relatively popular story “The Cowboys of Cthulhu”  – including at least one character who dies in that story…

What I’m finding particularly fascinating as I retype is that I remember practically nothing about this novel. I’m having a whale of a time reading the story seemingly for the first time as I type, even though I’m the cowhand what wrote this bucking bronco of a book!

Here’s your chance to join me in (re)discovering this book…

Riders cover

RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE

NO ROADS

by

David Bain

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Ghostriders in the Night

2. Sargent

3. Into the Fog

4. Riding with Legends in a Stark Land

5. Palaver with a Strange Posse

6. Gunsmoke – The Immediate Afterlife of Dr. Darius Darke

7. Reunions and First Reconnoiters

8. A Knife in the Endless Night

9. The Legend of Rosalita Bandita

10. The Hellcat and the Human Beans

11. Clyde Dangles and Dies

12. Rosalita Remembers

13. Rosalita’s Last Robbery

14. Clyde’s Eyes

15. Bo Battles Barrow’s Bunch

16. The Golden Lasso

17. God’s Honest Truth

18. Wade and Rosalita

19. “To Arms!”

20. The Bloody Battle of the Barrowbull

21. Wade Rides the Dragon

22. Descent

23. Ascent

24. Rosalita’s Last Ghost

25. The Desert

26. Recognition

27. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

28. The Cabin

29. The Foothills of Heaven

30. “Teach Me”

31. Shootout at The Foothills of Heaven

32. The Hills of Healing

RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS

An Exceedingly Weird Western

by

David Bain

1. Ghostriders in the Night

The bones Wade had broken in the past ached as if it might rain; his joints filled with steel wool though the only clouds outside were swift cirrus, moonlight filling the house from the copious windows and skylights. The fleeting wisps of ether crossing the full silver orb up there in the sky cast scurrying shadows on his walls, as if he were staggering through a river, not the upstairs hallway outside his bedroom.

Three a.m. Wade had finally fumbled his pained limbs out of the jumbled disarray of his bedsheets and, clad only in his boxers, made his way through the huge house toward the stairs to the first floor, the air conditioning cool on his scarred skin, the slate tiles downright frigid on his bare feet.

The wall along the stairway was lined with his rodeo awards, photos and other detritus of his career, the rope of a golden lariat stretching the length of the wall near the ceiling, the whole of the display encircled – lassoed – in its giant loop.

He wanted to spit on the stairs, the wall, the lasso, everything it encompassed as he descended.

What good for a man to gain the world if he loses his own soul?

He snatched the golden lasso and yanked it hard away from the wall. The previously invisible staples popped out of the wallboard and clinked on the stone underneath. Wade kept pulling until the entire rope lay like a long, dead snake uncoiled on the stairs, coldly glittering, utterly absent of bite or venom.

He regetted the act almost as soon as it was done. Whether or not he was soul-dead these days, his life hadn’t been entirely wasted, had it? He’d becoe an entertainer as much as an athlete, a trick pony as much as a daredevil, but was that really such a bad thing?

Sighing, Wade tugged the golden rope and furled it into loop at the bottom of the stairs. He picked it up, hitching it around his arm and over a shoulder, carrying it with him into the kitchen, stepping on two staples and not caring – they stung briefly but didn’t pierce the thick hide of his callused feet. They were gone, brushed off with the next step he took.

Wade set the lariat down on the large central cooking block and opened the oversized fridge in the vast, yawning space of the kitchen. Cold air swirled out of it, making his skin crawl, his nutsack tighten – none of this an entirely unpleasant sensation  –  as he grabbed a Budweiser.

It wasn’t his habit to drink in the middle of the night – at least not since several years past – but then again it wasn’t his habit to have his wife walk out on him either.

Though it wasn’t exactly the first time she’d left him, usually he was the one doing the walking. When the going got tough, the tough got going on down the line to the next rodeo. That had been his motto for the first several decades of his adult life. There was always another stadium, another steer, another groupie on down that lonesome highway, preferably a few states away…

Wade twisted the cap off his longneck and took a swig as he looked out the window over the sink.

All the ligts were on in the little cabin down on the edge of his little man-made lake.

So Marc couldn’t sleep either.

Wade stared down across the two sloping acres of manicured lawn to the former guesthouse where his wayward son was now staying.

No, not “staying.” Hiding out was more like it.

“Be well,” Wade prayed, whispering into the dark. “Be safe. Be sober.”

He glanced at the beer in his hand. All of Marc’s struggles, and here Wade was, the boy’s father, drinking.

Fuck it, it was just a beer.

Had beer been Marc’s only problem, Wade would have thrown a kegger for his thirty-two-year-old boy and all his so-called friends just to celebrate. He himself, Wade, had beat the drug demon long ago and never drank more than three brewskis at a time these days.

Thus, he took a good, long swig, forcing himself to enjoy the surprisingly bitter taste. Perhaps the beer had been skunked somewhere on the way to his fridge…

This was when the first flash occurred.

Wade’s eyes had, in fact, been closed as he tried to make himself relish the taste of the cold brew sudsing down his throat, but he felt the flash in his mind as much as he saw it. It was a searing red that lashed the back of his eyes and the center of his brain. There and gone in a single instant.

It was nonetheless devastating, for Wade surely knew what it meant.

He sputtered beer, staggered, nearly dropping the brown bottle.

God damn.

Marc had found the badge.

That blasted, half-forgotten, not-real thing.

***

In the past three decades, Wade had convinced himself it had all been a dream, a drug-induced fantasy.

The whole business with the badge, with Sargent and Ol’ Red, it had all been just too damned … well, to use the phrase of the times in which it’d happed, too damned far out, man to be real.

But no.

Sargent had been real.

Scary and too beautiful.

But real.

Too real. Unacceptably real.

So why didn’t this feel the same? Why did this feel anything but beautiful?

And why was he suddenly so terrified for Marc?

And where in the bloody hell had Marc found that blasted badge in the first place?

Wade had seen the flash in his brain, not with his eyes, and his inner eye somehow told him the flash had its epicenter down near the cabin.

Now, his eyes growing wide, Wade saw wave after wave of fog undulating forth from the cabin, as if the little single-story structure, already so eerie in the brilliant moonlight, were a fog machine cranking out dry ice mist on a movie set.

Within the fog, if is eyes didn’t deceive him, galloped the shadowy shapes of horses – ghost horses, horses made of the fog itself.

And ghostly riders.

Perhaps a half-dozen of them, surging across the surface of the lake now, galloping away from the cabin.

The switch solid earth to water did not seemto affect their stride at all. Unless his eyes deceived him, the ghost horses were coursing across the water.

The men – for they certainly were men, cowboys, tall ones, surreally thin – laughed now, harshly, the horrible sound of their wicked mirth carried Wade on a wind which suddenly arose from nowhere, penetrating the walls of his house, chilling the grey matter of his brain.

With a fluid motion that merely mortal men were not capable of, they became fog, lost all solidity, flowed into the mist which continued to roil over the lake as it began to dissipate.

Then came the sound of Marc’s screams, echoing across the night.

There was pain in those screams. Pain and the sheer,  uncomprehending terror of those fighting for their very sanity against a vision so awesome, so awful, that comprehension, much less defense, was all but impossible.

These were followed by another set of screams, much closer, filling Wade’s ears, drowning Marc out.

As the mostly full Budweiser bottle fell and shattered on the floor, scattering shards of brown glass that most certainly would penetrate even Wade’s callused feet, Wade realized that these screams were his own.

Even as he reached for the Sig Sauer he kept hidden behind the cereal boxes in the kitchen cabinet over the stove, Wade, screaming even louder now, realized dimly he was acting on autopilot, that  same fearsome, inchoate, loathesome pilot who had instigated so many backstage brawls and barroom beat-downs.

***

When Wade came back to himself, he was halfway down the slope to te cabin, hollering Marc’s name, Sig in one hand and, oddly enough, the golden lasso in the other.

Fog filled the land.

He was still wearing nothing but his boxers. The normally arid night was humid, the fog dewy on his skin.

Wade half-slid, half ran down the hill, the grass slick beneath his feet.

“They’re already gone.”

A voice, unfamiliar and thoroughly unexpected, directly behind him.

Wade turned, gun raised, his sock and fright bare upon his face.

“You’re too late, mister. But you’re welcome to join our posse if you’ve got the cajones.”

Horses and riders stood in moonlit silhouette on the ridge of the slope behind him. Six of them. Cowboys – big hats, long slickers, riding tall in their saddles.

“Whoever might have been in that cabin, their fate is now in Barrow’s hands.” Another voice, this one more cultured. “You shan’t find anything down there except perhaps the initial bloodbath. Barrow’s initiatory welcome to whomever he’s stolen now.”

“It’s an abbatoir,” said a third man whose eyes were hidden beneath the low, wide brim of his hat. “Barrow’s latest victim is a young man. He was in front of the cabin when Barrowgot him, standing by a … horse that’s somehow not a horse.”

“He don’t know what’s going on, poor cabron.” A woman’s voice. Thick Mexican accent. Then, louder, directed toward him: “Listen, hon’. There ain’t much time. You got to trust us. We the good guys. You put that gun down, hokay?”

Wade waited a few beats, sure of nothing but the weight of the gun and the protection it offered. Then he gave himself over and lowered  the Sig. If anything, he was outnumbered. He looked over his shoulder at the cabin. Down there, through the restless, settling fog, he could see the rear cabin door swinging gently in the night’s slight breeze. It made a lonely creaking sound in the sudden silence.

“Where’s my boy?” he asked. “And who’s Barrow? That’s not who’s after him. Terry Getts, the drug dealer, he’s the one after Marc.”

“I’m sorry, but there’s no time to explain,” the cultured voice said. “Join us if you will, stay if you must.” The man gave a wave of his hand and the horses started down the slope, the riders spurring them on and quickly coursing past Wade, kicking up huge divots out of the lawn.

Wade was too awestruck, too worried about Marc to concern himself with the damage being done to his manicured grass. From the glimpses Wade caught, it felt like he was suddenly back on the rodeo circuit. Each of the riders was dressed in full classic Western regalia, right down to the chaps and neckerchiefs.

“Better move it, hon’! Come with, you want to see your boy again!” the woman called as she passed. “No time!”

His bones aching anew and protesting all the way, Wade, mostly naked and not daring to think (and was there glass stuck to in the thick pads of his feet?), ran after the horses through the misty, dread-soaked dark, the Sig now a pitiful, meaningless stone in his hand.

Then something happened which made both his heart and his stride stop cold.

One of the cowboys – the tall, thin drink of water whose eyes had been hidden – turned to look back at him over his shoulder. The man lifted the brim of his hat and, though it was just a brief glance, two seconds at the most, Wade could have sworn that under the brim the man’s eyes glowed a piercing red, like coals sparking the flames of hell.

2. Sargent

The thing with the badge had happened in the days long before the George Strait song “Amarillo by Morning,” eons before Garth Brooks summed up the whole sport and lifestyle in a song, but Amarillo had indeed been Wade’s destination, and the rodeo had indeed been his one true love – more so than any woman could ever be – and Wade had indeed owned little but what was on his back. There had been fewer scars back then, no steel wool in his joints, and he and’t broken anything too badly yet – plus there were no lost knuckles from too many steer roping gone bad. Though he saw himself as experienced, he’d really just started and was something of a golden boy. A real up-and-comer. The right people were starting to take notice, more than just the dime-a-dozen floozies who rode the cowpokes who rode the circuit. And certain influential people – people like Big Red Keil, guys who might take you in, support and promote you – would be in Amarillo.

He was headed out from a rinky-dink show on a farm in Dirt Hat, just on the Tejas side of the New Mexico border. A lot of barren land to cross. Wade had two-hundred bucks – his most recent winnings combined with his life’s savings – in a roll in the front pocket of his faded Wranglers. His Colorado driver’s license was in the glove compartment – he couldn’t afford the luxury of a wallet, his last one having been stolen from a locker by one of the 253 citizens of  Imnaha, Oregon, a few shows back.

His pick-up, Ol’ Red, a battered Harvester he’d won in a card game, was held together mostly by chickenwire, Bondo and prayer, but the radio worked and Merle Haggard or Patsy Cline or that in-yer-face new outlaw cat Waylon Jennings usually got him where he was going. In the summer desert like this, if Wade pushed Ol’ Red fast enough with both windows down, he could convince himself the resultant air turbulence – which drowned out the radio at higher speeds – was cooling the sweat constantly dripping from his hair into his eyes.

Johnny Cash was rapping out a laundry list of all the places he had been, man, when Wade heard a single loud crack and saw steam suddenly billowing out from under Ol’ Red’s hood. Condensation immediately started forming on the outside of the windshield. The engine started revving and whining in pitches and fits that had nothing to do with his foot on the accelerator.

This wasn’t just a leak. Not just a hose or gasket. Wade kept a gallon of water in the bed of the truck, along with oil and other emergency supplies, but he understood immediately they weren’t going to cut it.

Ol’ Red had just given up the ghost.

He pulled over and got out of the truck.

Ol’ Red steamed and hissed as if pissed at him.

Wade took off his ten-gallon hat – well, okay, cowboy hat, but not a true ten-galloner – spat on the ground and … watched.

It was too damned hot to even get near that engine for the moment.

The clear blue sky with its blazing sun was a bakery oven and he was a donut – a great big zero – sitting out here, his thumb up his ass, in The Great Wide Empty.

Ahead of him: empty road to the horizon, shimmering in the hazy heat.

Behind him: same damned thing.

Directly in front of him: a steaming hulk of now nearly worthless metal, still holding his few possessions.

***

Wade plopped his duffel bag down on the berm and sat on it. Nothing in the scenery  had changed, except now the plume of Ol’ Red’s steam – the equivalent of a vehicular death rattle – was little more than a mirage on the horizon behind him. Not even a buzzard had blessed the sky, much less a cloud. The angry white vaporous stream from the engine looked like it was finally starting to thin a bit, but who could tell at this distance? The highway, a tacky tar ribbon beneath his scuffed cowboy boots, still stretched out seemingly beyond the borders of the earth both behind and in front of him.

Wade sighed and turned his back to Ol’ Red once more, thankful for the brim of his hat as the boiling sun beat down. His feet already hurt. There’d be blisters before too long. He wished for a bottle, a joint, even some speed, a cup of strong coffee, anything to to make the morass of sweat and monotonous landscape the slightest bit more interesting. A hit of acid would have been heaven.

As if in answer, the relentlessly glaring sun caught something far up ahead. Whatever it was, it flashed briefly, sparking silver where the sky met the land, where the road met infinite possibility.

Infinite possibility? Why had he thought that?

Wade stopped, took off his hat and wiped his sopping brow with his shirtsleeve, watching the speck slowly grow.

It was a motorcycle.

Before too long he could hear it too. A purring engine, alive and at peace, but filled with potential power, like a sleek, sinewy lion, surveying its territory and … pleased with itself.

An engine in fine tune was, of course, always music to Wade’s ears, but, even at a distance, this particular machine seemed to emanate vibrations which soothed him, which made him breathe easier, the pain in his feet forgotten. Wade would have sworn, standing there in the unforgiving sun, that the rumble and hum of that hog sent a wave of cooling relief through his muscles, lowering the temperature of his grateful skin.

As the biker cruised closer, Wade saw the rider was a big guy – big belly, big beard, big Jerry Garcia hair, big silver shades obscuring his eyes. Guy wore a dark blue denim vest with nothing underneath but his hairy, bearlike chest. No helmet. His flared, bellbottomed Levi’s looked almost new. Dude work cowboy boots of some sort of hide Wade didn’t recognize – too iridescent to be snakeskin, yet there definitely appeared to be scales.

Wade made a fist, stuck his thumb in the air, and leveled his  hand out over the road, the traditional hitchhiker pose. He suddenly found he was chuckling despite himself.

Of course the guy would stop.

Was there any question?

But it also seemed somehow important that he do this right, in the traditional way, that he honor the biker and his ride, pay them due homage with The Ritual of the Thumb.

Hell, the sun must have gotten to his brain more than he’d thought…

But Wade nonetheless kept thumb over asphalt, watching the rider approach.

The biker slowed to a stop directly in front of Wade. He was grinning. His machine was exquisite, all smoothe curving contours and gleaming, black polished chrome. Definitely a Harley Davidson – though, oddly, Wade couldn’t place the model.

“Need a ride?”

Wade nodded, unable to hide his awe.

“Where to?”

Wade shrugged. “Amarillo. But it doesn’t look like you’re headed that way.”

The biker seemed to consider this. “There’s more than one road to Amarillo. I’ll get you there.”

“Shit, no. Don’t change where you’re headed just for me,” Wade said. “Look, just get me back down the road to the next town, I’ll hitch on from there.”

The biker furrowed his brow. “And abandon your steed?”

Wade looked back at Ol’ Red. “I’d come back for her someday. If I make Amarillo, do what I’ve gotta do there, I just might make the money to fix ‘er up!”

“That’s what I wanted to hear!” the biker said.

“But for now, you get me on down the road a little ways, I’ll hitch on from there.”

The biker laughed. “Fuck that!” He tapped a button pinned to his denim vest. Printed in psychedelic paisley-like letters over a swirl of rainbow colors, it said:

I ride

wherever

there are

roads

For the slightest instant the button shimmered in the sun and Wade thought it was a badge, in the shape of a star, the sort a U.S. Marshal or Sheriff might wear. But then it was just a swirly-colored button again, the kind you could have someone print up for you for a dime.

“It’s all about the road, not the route,” the biker said.

“I can dig it,” Wade responded. At that point in his life, Wade wasn’t much for philosophical insights. As Abbie Hoffman was saying in those days, there were a lot of realities floating around, man. If you wanted to avoid in-depth discussions regarding the bullshit wisdom du jour, you simply smiled, nodded, muttered, “Groovy” in all the right places and passed the doobage.

“Hop on. I’ve got some twine. You can tie down your bag there.” The biker nodded to the hind-quarters of his ride. “Name’s Sargent.”

He held out a large, meaty hand.

Wade shook, gave his own name.

The big man reached into his vest – apparently there was an inside pocket – and pulled out a small leather pouch, closed with a drawstring.

“This here’s my medicine bag, Wade,” Sargent said. That grin, wide as the sky above. “What’s inside might make the trip a little easier for you.”

Wade returned the grin and reached inside.

***

Wade was a child of the sixties, and there was no small amount of partying on the rodeo circuit. Whiskey might have been the cowboy way a hundred years before, but had the cowboys of the Old West ridden in Wade’s circles, Jesse James would have been strung out on smack, and Billy the Kid would surely have been a cokehead. As for Butch and Sundance, they might have run hemp north from Peru or given up the whole shootin’ match and retired early to Amsterdam.

In other words, whatever this shit Sargent had given him was, it was in a class of its own, man.

Simply immaculate.

Otherworldly.

Like, wow.

For here they were, in a desert full of flowers, as far as the eye could see. Pastels of every shape and color, the air filled with fragrance, the pollen almost visible in the close, cloying air. Wade had heard of deserts bursting into bloom after a sudden rain, but his skin was dry as he and Sargent laughed through the heady landscape, the biker telling raucous jokes which Wade quickly forgot, but consisting of words which seemed to spin in his mind…

And here they were, cruising through a mountain pass that looked suspiciously like Colorado, the Rockies, for sure. But the pines were literally mile-high and the branches looked more like downy feathers. And there were patches of snow that threw brilliant arrays of endless crystalline rainbow refractions as that ever-soothing engine purred past. Somewhere amongst the grey crags, within these lofty purple peaks, somewhere beyond the motorcycle’s hum, water trickled and tinkled. It sounded like the most delicate of wind chimes, and Wade was sure he could make out a definite tune, one he imagined he would recall only in deep pleasant dreams after having made love to an exquisite lady, said lady in his far, far future…

For here they were, the motorcycle now a horse beneath them! Galloping, galloping! Across a rolling prairie they coursed, flowing along a barely discernible pat worn in the endless green, the pulsing rhythm of the hoof beats as soothing as  the strong, black steed’s fluttering mane. And wasn’t there, behind them, the sound of a second horse, following at speed? Wade looked over his shoulder. A mare, its coat worn thin, its mane tattered and limp. It was huffing, working hard to keep up. But even as Wade watched, the mare’s auburn mane seemed to grow more full, more lustrous. Stronger by the second, the other horse suddenly thundered past them in an exuberant burst of sheer strength and speed! Wade laughed into the sea of aquamarine sky above as together the steeds crested a lush, verdant hill in their final moments in that land…

For here they were, the engine idling underneath them at a stoplight in a city of awesome glass skyscrapers, the likes of which Wade had never seen. Cars of familiar makes but muted, metallic colors honked around them in rush-hour traffic. They had slowed for blue neon instead of yellow light and were waiting a brilliant, dazzlingly gold signal. The light flicked to silver and they were off, surging forward  through the not roaring but oddly insectilely buzzing cars…

And here they were, cruising along a seemingly endless curve on a stretch of highway hugging the contours of a large seaside bay. The water was so blue it was almost green. Easily visible from the bike were huge schools of miniscule fish, swarming with sprays of tropical colors, seeming with each darting instant to paint new surrealistic images which made stark sense to the subconscious…

And, at long last, here they were, having a beer in a bar in downtown Amarillo, the place filled with an easy mix of bikers and cowboy folk, necks as rough and red as you please, Wade suddenly realizing he and Sargent were in mid-conversation and that he himself, Wade, was the one currently speaking. He had the feeling they’d been sitting here, talking, for quite some time.

“So what you’re saying,” Wade concluded, “is that it’s all us. Heavens and hells. Inner and outer. It’s all one landscape.” Christ, was this really him, speaking all this hippy claptrap? “If it can be imagined, it’s real, somewhere, at some level.”

Sargent seemed to think whatever Wade was saying was uproariously funny. “You got it!” he bellowed. The big, hairy biker was spewing laughter and beer-spittle, drawing uneasy looks even from a few hardened Harley types. Frothy suds were thick in his beard and all around his roaring mouth.

“Bullshit!” Wade cried, and started laughing as heartily as Sargent.

“Dig it, man! Dig it!” Sargent replied, and laughed even harder, red-faced now and wiping streaming tears from his eyes, as if he’djust heard the best dirty joke of his life. He slammed his thick glass mug down on the bar and, as he recovered from his hysterical mirth, ordered the barkeep over for a refill.

Sargent was down to mere chuckles by the time the bartender delivered. He wiped a final merry tear from his cheek, took a sip and met Wade’s gaze, his tone suddenly serious.

Just as suddenly, Wade found his own pallid reflection in Sargent’s immense sunglasses unnerving.

“Listen,” Sargent was saying. “Any time you want, you can do this. You can travel this way. That badge in your pocket is not only a reminder – it’s your destiny. The medicine I gave you, that was a reminder. It can be tough, remembering. Not really, when you’re used to it – but most of us ain’t used to it. Takes a special breed to get used to it. Hell, even me, my Mustang out there is my helper, my reminder. I think I could go without it, but I’m so attached to it, been riding her for so long, I wouldn’t know for sure anymore.”

“A Mustang’s a type of car,” Wade said. “Been around a few years now. Detroit steel. Not Harley Davidson.”

Sargent’s smile was thin. He lifted his sunglasses – the only time Wade ever saw his brown-as-syrup eyes – and winked, mischievous.

Wade turned from Sargent and stared into his beer. He expected Sargent to do the same, but Sargent seemed intent on keeping those mirrored sunglasses locked on Wade.

Wade was forced to look at himself. Finally, Wade said, “I’m not sure I want to go back.”

He tried to keep his eyes on his draft, but the pull of Sargent’s gaze, mirrored or not, was an irresistible force.

“That badge allows you safe passage between all the worlds,” Sargent said. “And yes, it’s hard to fathom. But it’s your destiny – it’s everyone’s in fact. Eventually. It’s the rightest thing in all the world, that badge, your birthright – everyone’s birthright – if you ride where there are roads. If you don’t, though, you’re right, things might go hard for you.”

“What are you talking about, this badge, my rights, my destiny? What is this nonsense?”

But those were the last words Wade would remember hearing from Sargent for more than three decades.

***

For there Wade was, behind the wheel, in the driver’s seat of Ol’ Red, pulling into a spot in the dusty rodeo parking lot in Amarillo, just in time to register.

He leaned out the open driver’s side window and puked up what had apparently been a burger and fries and a copious amount of good, strong beer, the kind he’d been drinking with Sargent.

Recovering, Wade flet in his pocket for his money. It was still there.

But so was something else. A badge. A star, like a U.S. Marshal or Sheriff might wear. The circle inscribed around the center of the star read: “I RIDE WHEREVER THERE ARE ROADS”.

Terrified, Wade hurled the thing out the window, into the parking lot.

Then he hurriedly clambered out of Ol’ Red and dug for it in the dirt.

He found an empty, crumpled and unsealed envelope in the glove compartment – a prize money check had come in it several rodeos ago – and he sealed the badge in it.

And there it had stayed for more than thirty years, until, one day, his son, Marc – who wouldn’t even be born for another two years – apparently found it.

3. Into the Fog

Three of the strange cowboys had dismounted by the time Wade got to the cabin. One of them, dressed impeccably beneath his duster, ran to intercept him. This was a black-haired man with a neat goatee, his hair slicked back beneath what appeared to be a short top hat. He seemed eerily familiar to Wade, but Wade couldn’t place him.

“You don’t want to go in there,” the man said. “There’s nothing in there you want to see. But you do need to come with us.” He pointed at Ol’ Red, which was parked outside the cabin. “You need to get in….“ He hesitated, furrowed his brow, briefly confused, then plowed on – “I think you need to get on that horse and ride with us.”

Wade’s only response was to call Marc’s name again and barrel forward into the guy, trying to break past him. The man, surprisingly strong for such a seeming gentleman, caught him by an arm. Wade pulled free and ran for the cabin door. He saw that Ol’ Red’s passenger side door sat wide open, a spray of paperwork, napkins and maps, obviously the former contents of the glove compartment, lay on the ground.

There was another cowboy blocking the doorway, and this one Wade did recognize. Except there was o way this was real. Wade was either dreaming or mistaken. He raised the Sig into the man’s face.

“Get out of the way. I need to see what happened to my boy.”

“You think I’m scared of a gun in my face? There are things ordinary men don’t need to see. Your son’s still alive despite what it looks like in there. We’ll explain everything to you, but we need to go. Now. You need to do like Darius said and get in … I mean on your horse.

“I’m helping my son! And I’m just a crazy enough son of a bitch to shoot you in order to do it!”

The man considered a moment, looking past the barrel of the Sig into Wade’s eyes. “Okay,” he finally said, scowling but stepping out of the way. “Go in. Maybe you do need to see it. But it’s not what it seems.”

Inside, the walls were covered with sprays of blood, clots of gore – so much of it the place smelled coppery.

And in the center of the small central room stood the cowboy with the glowing red eyes. He was six-foot-six if he was an inch and cadaverously thin. His hat looked too large for his head. His hair hung to his shoulders in matted patches of black. He looked at Wade, and Wade briefly wondered if there wasn’t a sadness in those demon eyes.

Wade pointed his gun at the apparition. “You did this?”

The demon cowboy shook its head, the cast of his face oddly sympathetic. “No. This is Barrow’s work. Barrow is not of this earth. Your son did something to call him here. If you want your son back, we have to leave now. The fog will be gone soon.”

Wade didn’t lower the weapon. “First tell me what you are. What all this is.”

The demon cowboy sighed. “I’m Clyde. I’m lucky to be here, in this state, and you’re lucky to have me. I’m just the first stage of what your son will become if we don’t move now. And I’m the only one here who can track Barrow.”

The famous Old West cowboy who had been blocking the door said, “ Get in – Jesus Christ! I mean get on your horse now, mister. I’ll ride with you. Clyde, you take Wings when we go.”

“Sure thing, Jim,” Clyde said, and made for the doorway, striding past Wade and his still-raised Sig with barely a glance of his red-ember eyes.

Wade finally lowered his weapon. “This is insane,” he said to the man at the doorway to the cabin. “I’m dreaming. You’re Gentleman Jim Brodie, the outlaw turned sheriff. From the real cowboy days. And that other guy out there who tried to stop me is Doctor Darius Darke, the Old West carnival guy. You two were heroes to me when I was a kid. But you’re both dead a hundred years or more.”

“Yup,” Brodie said. “Except Darius was a lot more than a carnie and this here ain’t no dream. And you’re likely to see a darn good sight of my outlaw side right quick if you don’t get your ass movin’!”

“You guys keep saying I should get in or on my horse. You mean Ol’ Red, my pickup?”

“I mean the horse waiting out front of this cabin, whatever its name, whatever you call a mount in these parts. If you want to save your son, if you want to come with us, we got to saddle up. Look” – he gestured at the dark outside the cabin – “the fog’s fading. When it’s gone, us good guys will likely become ghosts for real and you’ll lose your only chance. There’s a higher purpose to all this, and Darius and I believe you’ll play a part. Now move!”

Wade, his brain pushing approximately fifteen-dozen questions aside, went out and got in the driver’s side of Ol’ Red. The key was in the ignition.

He saw that Brodie had stopped and picked up the scattered papers and was now staring at the passenger side.

“This isn’t a horse,” Brodie said. It looked to Wade like Brodie was trying to stare through the swirling fog at something he couldn’t comprehend. “What manner of beast is it?”

“A pick-up,” Wade said. “But she’s meant as much to me as any animal over the years.”

Brodie got in. “You can explain on the other side,” he said. “We’ll make palaver at some point. For now, we ride.”

“Where?” Wade asked.

“Follow them.” Brodie was pointing at the five other cowboys, who were already riding away, headed for the lake, Clyde bringing up the rear, one hand guiding his own steed, another on the bridle of a riderless Appaloosa.

“There’s no road there.”

“Since when has a horse needed a road? Ride!”

Remembering Sargent’s parting words, Wade nonetheless put Ol’ Red in gear and took off across the lawn. Despite the endless strangeness of the night and his son’s bloody disappearance, he had a moment to cringe at the damage he was surely doing to the grass as the tires of the now-classic vehicle dug in. He saw shadows of sod being kicked up in the rearview.

“Is whatever the hell we’re looking for here on the shore of the lake?”

“What lake?” Brodie was looking at him with an eyebrow raised, as if Wade had gone insane.

Then Wade’s mouth fell open and stayed there as he saw the six horses in front of them fail to hesitate at the shore, riding out over the water. Their hooves caused the water to ripple the reflected moonlight slightly, but it was nothing more than a breeze might do.

He spent a second too long being stunned and now there was no time to hit the brakes. Instead, Wade decided to give himself over as much as possible to the insanity. He was dreaming, after all.  Wade closed his eyes and put the pedal to the metal.

Ol’ Red roared forward.

“Yeeha!” Brodie whooped. “That’s more like it, son!”

Wade felt the tires kick through thick sand. Then Ol’ Red was riding on a surface smoother than any macadam. Wade opened his eyes and saw he was coursing past the other riders, who had parted for him, several of them openly gawking, staring at him, wide-eyed, amazed at his speed.

Ahead, in the middle of the lake which Wade suddenly realized he was actually driving on, the fog got thicker. As fast as Ol’ Red was going, waves and tendrils of mist were rushing past them, as if they were being sucked out of existence or into some other world.

Had there been similar banks of fog on his ride with Sargent all those years ago? Wade thought perhaps it was so.

Beside him, the legendary Gentleman Jim Dunsworth Brodie, known in the days of his misspent youth more than a century ago as The Demon Duelist, clenched his teeth, staring determinedly into the fog ahead, saying, “You just watch your ass, Barrow. This is the last time you fuck with a mortal. I got a feeling about this one. This one’s our lucky number, just you wait and see!”

Wade’s memory flashed on all the sprays of blood – his son’s blood – on the walls of the cabin. He felt Ol’ Red kick into a higher gear. It felt like the engine hummed more somoothly, more evenly, than she had in all the time he’d owned the vehicle. Like Brodie, Wade gritted his teeth and sowar an oath to get his son back.

Then he, Brodie, Ol’ Red and the riders behind them were fully enveloped by the cloud of pure white.

4. Riding with Legends in a Stark Land

Somewhere in the fog, Wade felt the pumping of Ol’ Red’s pistons become the pounding of hooves, the vaguely humming driver’s seat becoming the rhythmic lunging of a horse beneath him. Wade was suddenly in a saddle, reign looped in his hands instead of the steering wheel. Brodie had his arm around Wade’s middle. The thunder of the other six horses reverberated in Wade’s ears.

At first it felt almost as if the horse were flying, running on the soft cushion of the mist itself. Then the sensation suddenly changed, and Wade was sure it was solid rock under the horse, the solidity of the hoof-falls broken by the occasional scrape and scatter of loose gravel. A somewhat sulfurous smell crept into the air. As the fog thinned, Wade saw they appeared to be rushing through a dark canyon.

High above the canyon, in the narrow strip of visible sky, cirrus clouds whipped by at an impossible speed. And that wasn’t moonlight up there was it? There was indeed something of a wind down here between the rocks, but nothing like what was going on up in the heavens. It made no sense.

“Pull up next to Wings,” Brodie said, apparently ignoring the illogic of the clouds.

Wade spurred his horse alongside the Appaloosa, and something strange about Brodie’s statement struck him – specifically, the name Brodie had used to refer to his legendary horse. Wade had first read Brodie’s biography as a kid, for an elementary school book report, and he had reread it and other accounts of Brodie’s life several times, even as an adult. During the rogue days of his youth, Brodie had stolen the infamous animal from an Indian chief. The Indians had called the horse “A Fury of Wings.” During his salooning, bandit gunslinger days, in the period during which he was known as The Demon Duelist, Brodie had shortened the Appaloosa’s name to simply “Fury.” Later in his life, however, after becoming sheriff of Grizzley Gulch in Oregon, in his “Gentleman” Jim days, Brodie had changed the horse’s name to “Wings.”

It struck Wade that the Brodie over his shoulder looked like the lean, leathery, shaggy-haired young pistolero in the rare earlier photographs – in the copious photos from his later life, Brodie’s put on a good deal of weight, grown a then-fashionable walrus moustache and cut his hair.

Yes, in this dream, Wade was definitely riding with the young Brodie, but the young Brodie called his horse by the more mature Brodie’s name for the animal.

Wade’s train of thought was broken when Brodie with minimal preparatory maneuvering of his legs, effortlessly, acrobatically swung himself off Ol’ Red’s back onto Wing’s.

Ol’ Red?

Yes, Wade realized. This wasn’t just some nameless nag he was spurring forward. He was riding Ol’ Red. Ol’ Red – previously a pick-up, which he may or may not have once upon a time abandoned as a broken, empty heap in the desert – was now a horse, racing to beat a sulfurous wind.

And now he realized something else – the horse that had run with him and Sargent in the land of green hills. It had been Ol’ Red! Those lush, verdant hills – about a million miles different from the stark, ugly landscape around them now, had somehow healed Ol’ Red!

Before he had time to contemplate this, Wade realized yet another thing: he was no longer clad only in his skivvies. He was in full cowboy regalia, like all the others here, complete with overcoat, chaps and a ten-gallon hat. His Sig was sheathed in a holster at his belt. His golden lariat, the one he’d pulled from the wall by the stairs, was looped at his side. His formerly bare feet were comfortable in a well-worn pair of boots he’d never seen before.

Wade gave himself over to the dreamlike moment. He had no clear idea what was going on or where his son was, but in this dream he was riding with at least two legends of the Old West, possibly more, and a demon. Plus he was astride a rippling-muscled steed every bit as much a part of him and his history as Wings was a part of Brodie.

Dusters billowing out behind them, the party of seven galloped on into the dark.

***

By the time Darius Darke, riding point, called for a halt, Wade had seen enough of the  three members of the posse he didn’t know to be sure he didn’t recognize them.

One of the two other cowboys was a black man. All that Wade could pick up from him was an air of quiet confidence. He seemed to ride easiest in the saddle of the entire bunch.

The remaining man seemed utterly unremarkable, an extra in any John Ford Western. He consistently rode just a stride behind Clyde, as if he were some sort of subservient to the demon-man with the glowing red eyes.

As for the female, Wade had ridden alongside her briefly, trying to take in a surreptitious glance. She was sleek and dark of brow, definitely of Mexican descent. Intensity seemed to radiate out from her in waves, part of the fabric of her. It seemed she had a lithe body but a rough bearing. Wade found himself suddenly shuddering in the wake of her driven, dusky beauty, the light of the fell strangelights above catching lustrously in her raven hair, her knife-glint eyes catching a liver of the strangelights in pupils the color of night. Wade lost himself staring, but she shot him a look that quickly dispelled his rapture. Wade swallowed hard, rode on. In that single glance he’d had the feeling of being in the presence of a being which was intensely female – not the soft, pliant, needy femininity of the rodeo whores he was used to, not even the low, smoldering sensuousness his wife Meg was capable of. No, this was a completely wild sort of femininity, untamed, smothering in the way a fire smothers, feral, dangerous, not exactly sane. It was a femininity which could take you in, yes, but it would also bite, in the manner a black widow bit her mate. It was a femininity from which a male, if he rushed in headlong, could consider himself lucky to escape alive.

5. Palaver with a Strange Posse

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GRB betterI’ve noted elsewhere that I’m currently writing two Will Castleton novels at once. We’ll likely see RETURN TO ANGEL HILL, which I’m co-writing with C. Dennis Moore, first, around the end of the year, I’m guessing. That one will combine my Green River and Will Castleton series with Dennis’ creepy, diabolical Angel Hill stories. You can read the prologue in advance here. Then, sometime early next year, we should see PURGATORY BLUES, which is chronologically the second Will Castleton novel, picking up where DEATH SIGHT left off.

And you can read the (current draft of the) prologue to PURGATORY BLUES right here, right now!

PURGATORY BLUES:

A WILL CASTLETON ADVENTURE

by David Bain

I

Dear John:

My bad time, the period during which I thought I was psychic, started after I nearly drowned trying to rescue my friend Boomer from the waves off Gamer’s Key, Florida. There were those in the U.S. Marshal Service who, shall we say, frowned on one of their underlings claiming a connection with the supernatural. Eventually, after I may or may not have freed a young woman’s soul in a cold case murder, and after I witnessed the deaths of several fellow officers in Arizona – deaths I felt I might have been able to stop because I convinced myself I had a premonition – I was sent to you, Dr. John Q. Headshrinker.

My current assignment in your ongoing “Let’s Get Will Castleton’s Brain Back in Order” crusade is to have me write about any  brushes with clairvoyance we haven’t yet discussed and to keep a journal of any new ones.

Alrighty, then.

Thankfully, there haven’t been any new ones in the intervening years.

I’d thought that it all started with Boomer, but now that you make me think about it, John, there was one other time when I had what people into this stuff would call a premonition, a vision.

It was a dream, in college, at Grand Valley State.

One morning, after a beer-soaked night, sleeping through the dorm cafeteria breakfast, I dreamt of a small, angry animal, its thick fur slick with sludgy, grimy dirt, forcibly burrowing its way up from somewhere deep inside the earth. The creature was all fury, all rage and instinct, snarling into my face as it broke through. Its nose and mouth were bloody as it growled to the surface, ferociously working its short legs and razor-clawed paws. It wanted to dig my brain out of my skull, burrow its sharp, snapping, saw-toothed maw into my guts, feast on my screams. It hated me utterly – and I awoke to a bright late morning as it burst out into the dark, humid, grinding midnight of my dream.

The next night, drunk again – hair of the dog, don’t you know – walking home from the bar in a group with four or five of my fellow wanna-be law enforcement majors, we saw a hunchbacked animal scuttling under one of the lights in the empty grocery parking lot behind our dorm. It was a rat. A huge, sniveling thing, working at some hunk of dropped and rotted food from one of the nearby trash bins.

We ran for the poor, startled beast.

It froze in shock.

Hiking boots and button-down flannel shirts were the fashion that year, the rustic look, a grunge throwback, and I remember the rat stood, raising itself on its hind legs, hissing until the first boot connected.

I still hear that hiss in other dreams – sometimes it will come from a monster, sometimes from the Queen figure who haunts the Gray Lake of my dreams. Other times I’ll be having a normal conversation, at Sheets’ Bakery, say, having a donut and a coffee with my girlfriend Candice. And suddenly Candice will stop mid sentence, smile at me – and her face will transform, her eyes going black, her face going pale as death, her teeth growing fanglike.

And she’ll his at me with all the hatred of that long-ago animal.

My buddies and I kicked the rat around like a soccer ball before it made a limping escape into the overgrowth behind the lot. The rat would skitter across the pavement, try to catch hold of the macadam with its claws, then roll straight into another boot. It was airborne a number of times. It screeched, skittered and screamed. I hadn’t known a rat could scream.

We battered the thing with our feet for probably only a minute or so, but it felt like ten – a joyous raucous decade of minutes as we drunken soldiers chortled, cheering each other on, our laughter echoing off the high brick walls of the dorm, the low slabs of the back of the nightlit grocery store.

The thing was struggling for breath as it lurched away into the weeds. I can’t imagine how much damage it had taken. I can’t imagine it lived – but, then again, rats are supposedly a tough breed.

It wasn’t until the following morning, a wicked hangover chafing at my brain, that I made the connection between my dream the previous morning and the piece of vermin we had kicked within an inch of its life. I was trying to wash the stale paste of too many beers off my tongue when the realization kicked me in the gut.

The reason I’m writing about this in the journal you suggest I keep, John, is that, this summer, I’ve been having that same dream again – the dream I had the morning before we kicked the shit out of that poor rat. I’ve heard its hiss in bad dreams dozens of times between now and then, but, this summer, the rat seems to be snarling deep down in the earth, struggling, growling, madly digging to rise once more to the surface.

And – I know it’s just a rat, just a rodent – but there’s a definite, distinctive, unmistakable tone to its growling.

It wants revenge.

Click to check out more Will Castleton books and stories

underwater scene with bubbles and sunraysby David Bain

You may freely copy and repost or reprint this article as long as all links, the above byline, this note, and all following text remains unchanged.

My series character Will Castleton happened accidentally. I didn’t start out planning him to be a series character at all. Then I had editors asking for a vampire story, a ghost hunter story, etc., and I just sort of plopped Will into each piece instead of inventing a new character. He’s the same guy in these stories, just at different points in his life. By the time I realized I had to get serious about Will, the chronology was all over the place – and that’s the current state of things. I hope to fix this over the next several years, and most readers are sticking with me despite the jumps in time. (And I herewith thank them graciously for this!)

Still, I feel a few things need to be explained. First off, here, presented chronologically, are the different periods of Will’s life I’ve written about so far (or am writing about in a uncompleted work in progress), and the short stories or NOVEL titles that go with that period.

1. Rookie U.S. Marshal (DEATH SIGHT)

2. Green River County Sheriff’s Deputy (PURGATORY BLUES, HOMEWARD DEVILS (flashback scenes))

3. Reinstated U.S. Marshal (Phoenix Blood, Island Ghosts, MENGER, RUNNING)

4. Bodyguard for hire (RETURN TO ANGEL HILL, Unnamed Vance Lee Gentry/Will Castleton story, Unnamed Rafe Johnson/Will Castleton story)

5. Paranormal investigator (The Bridge, Samantha, HOMEWARD DEVILS, CHOOSE, Nighteyes, THE HOUSE IN CYRUS HOLLER)

A couple additional notes: A few reviewers and commentators have noticed that while Will’s girlfriend is named Candice in his “origin” novel DEATH SIGHT, his girlfriend is named Samantha in three of THE CASTLETON FILES – which, in fact, features a story (at least partially) named after her.

Just to clarify – I didn’t screw anything up here. Candice and Samantha are not the same person. A few readers have also commented that they like Samantha just a little bit more than Candice. Well, that’s good, actually, because that’s the way I planned it. ;-)

Sometimes we have to go through a lot of relationships before we find the love of our life – and even then it’s not always easy. I wanted Will’s larger story arc to reflect that.FILES PLAY

As I noted above, the Will Castleton series sort of snuck up on me. I wrote “Island Ghosts” out of the blue one afternoon because I wanted to write an action story set in a version of a place where I’d vacationed. (While it’s a Florida key in the story, I actually based it on Dauphin Island, Alabama.) I thought the story was a one-off. I never intended to write about Will again. But then various editors wanted this or that sort of story so I wrote to order, stirring Will into the mix because, well, he was there, ready to go. I was in way too deep before I realized I was fascinated by the guy and would be with him for the duration, obligated to fill in the holes in his story arc.

So THE CASTLETON FILES represent a wide swath in Will’s life, several long years, taking him from single young U.S. Marshal to more seasoned and romantically involved private investigator.

Possible Return to Angel Hill 3For better or worse, this writing-out-of-order trend will probably continue for a little bit, too. Two writers working together write faster than one, and it’s looking like the next Will Castleton novel to be released will be RETURN TO ANGEL HILL, wherein C. Dennis Moore and I combine our various series characters and settings, taking Will from the realm of my Green River crime and horror to Dennis’ diabolical city of Angel Hill.

Sometime early next year we should see PURGATORY BLUES, which is the direct follow-up to DEATH SIGHT. As far as Will’s relationship status in PURGATORY goes, I’ll only comment that both Candice and Samantha make at least an GRB betterappearance. Uh-uh. Nope! Not saying anything more than that! Can’t make me! Lalalalalala! <fingers in my ears> I can’t hear you!

While each Will Castleton story is designed to stand on its own, I plan to eventually have a larger, relatively seamless over-arcing storyline. However, I like the idea of being able to write about Will at any stage of his life, and I’ll reserve the right to jump between, as long as it doesn’t mess with the over-arcing story.

I love the action, romance and suspense in Will’s stories, and I love the thrill and challenge of filling in the blanks in his larger narrative. So far readers have been quite supportive of Will’s time-jumps, and I appreciate everyone bearing with me! I’m in for a long journey – thanks for joining me on this exciting ride!

Where are the new movie reviews?

Posted: November 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

So a few of you have been asking – why no new movie reviews lately?

Dennis and I are putting the Dave and Dennis Reviews on hiatus in order to finish RETURN TO ANGEL HILL, our novel combining his Angel Hill  series with my Will Castleton and Green River books.

We’ve enjoyed these reviews too much to give them up, though. So they will be back, probably around Christmas/New Year’s sometime…

Possible Return to Angel Hill 3C. Dennis Moore and I are hard at work on our work in progress, RETURN TO ANGEL HILL.

This is a novel in which my “slightly psychic” detective Will Castleton travels from my haunted town of Green River to Dennis’ downright evil town of Angel Hill. Yes, Green River has more than its share of malevolent ghosts and corrupt small-time criminals, but in terms of pure, soul-shattering demonic wickedness, Angel Hill is like Green River on steroids.

Will’s in for some harrowing times…

In RETURN TO ANGEL HILL, Will’s psychic friend Mazie, whom readers will remember from DEATH SIGHT and THE CASTLETON FILES, calls on Will to accompany her when she’s forced to return to her ghost-infested hometown of Angel Hill, Missouri – a town she fled decades before, having nearly been psychologically shattered by a harrowing vision in the woods.

A death in the family pulls Mazie back to Angel Hill, but soon after stepping foot on her native soil, she and Will are caught up by spectral forces that twist a ghastly crime from the town’s past into an all-too terrifying present…

We’re hoping to wrap up RETURN TO ANGEL HILL in time for Christmas…

The prologue to the novel tells why Mazie left Angel Hill all those years ago…

RETURN TO ANGEL HILL

PROLOGUE

by David Bain & C. Dennis Moore

These were days that would never fade from memory, no matter how many years or how much distance was put between them.  Mazie had never doubted the reality of the supernatural world.  Spending one’s formative years in a place like Angel Hill, Missouri, it was hard to deny the existence of things like ghosts.   And if ghosts, why not more?  Why not demons and angels, why not unnatural forces, why not living energy whose only purpose in the world was to cause harm?

As her powers began to develop in her teens – she sometimes sensed impressions, sometimes whole stories, from the past after touching someone or something – the older and stronger she got, the worse the energies and the harder they were to shut down.  And if the psychic energies constantly bombarding her brain weren’t enough, the town, as an entity unto itself, was sometimes just plain mean.

A week before Mazie left town for good, nine-year-old Ryan McKay vanished.  In the rest of the world, suspicion would lean toward abduction:  Someone has taken Ryan McKay and now the search for him begins.  Hopefully he’ll be found alive, scared, but unharmed, maybe in the passenger seat of someone’s old pick-up, looking longingly out the window as they pull up to some gas station or a fast food place where Ryan’s abductor can hide the hand holding the gun behind his door.  Ryan may look at the cashier with a plea in his eyes but he won’t say anything and that cashier will think “That kid looks weird.  But familiar.  Where have I seen him?”  Then it’ll click and the cashier will tell the manager who will call the police and Ryan will be returned safe and sound.  Or, in the worst case scenario, Ryan was abducted and murdered and his body will be found a few days later in a ditch or in someone’s basement or back yard.

But this wasn’t the world.  This was Angel Hill.

At nineteen, Mazie was hot shit.  Her abilities to read objects and people had grown over the last six or seven years and she was starting to enjoy doing it.  She kept them to herself, only her grandmother and an aunt knew what she could do, and only because they shared the same gift.  So, when it worked, Mazie used her abilities as a no-fail lie detector, uncovering the bullshit boys fed the girls, or the lies girls told their friends, and always calling people out for it.  It quickly began to alienate those around her, and she feared that telling the few friends she had left about how she did what she did would just drive them away too, and no one wanted to be alone – not in a town like Angel Hill, because, here, sometimes the shapes one saw in the shadows moved.

But then this business with Ryan McKay happened and everyone knew something was up, but in a town like this, where secrets are the order of the day and where there are some things you just don’t talk about . . . people kept quiet.

Ryan had last been seen near a wooded area off the highway, a place kids went to play and live out their fantasies.  These woods served as Tarzan’s jungle, or the woods surrounding Camp Crystal Lake for the more daring role players.  For some it was the perfect place to live out their recent action movie star fantasies.

Mazie went out there one rainy afternoon.  She had no trouble finding it.  She felt the vibrations as soon as she got out of her Chevy Nova.  The walk through the woods was tense and her stomach was in knots.  She’d never felt anything this strong before.  It simultaneously pulled her forward while trying to hold her back.  To go toward it was a compulsion she didn’t think she could resist now that she was actually here, but something inside her, an inner voice she would come to trust with her life in time, tried to tell her to turn back and get as far away from this place as she could.  And quickly, at that.  But she couldn’t do that.  Because Ryan McKay, a little boy she had never met, had never even heard of, was missing, and Mazie knew that if she could shed any sort of light on this subject at all, if her gifts could be used in the slightest way to help get him home safely, or at least provide some answers if returning home was no longer a possibility, she couldn’t, in good conscience, deny that responsibility.

The ground was slick with mud, and not easy to cover with twigs and rocks and hills to contend with.  She grabbed a root growing jagged out of a hillside and hauled her bulk over a slick hill, then had to hold herself steady against a series of trees to get to the bottom without falling on the wet ground.  Even though she’d never been here before, it wasn’t hard to find with her head acting as a divining rod as those vibrations rattled her brain.  The closer she got, the less she wanted to do this thing.

Finally her gifts told her this was the spot, that something powerful had happened here.  She looked all around, trying to find a scrap of shirt, a broken twig he may have snapped during a struggle, anything she may be able to pick up some information from.

Silvery mist swirled about the trees as a breeze whispered in. The rain brushed her face like an unwelcome suitor, making unwanted advances. The sun was a distant cold whiteness behind the wall of dark gray above.

She walked slowly forward, cautious, expectant.  Her heartbeat pounded in her ears, almost as loud as the warnings she felt to leave this alone, turn around, go back to the road, get in the car and get far away from here.  But she couldn’t do that.

Her stomach felt like she hadn’t eaten all day, like it was about to consume itself and she realized she had to pee.  Her shoes were soaked, as were her socks, and she hated that feeling between her toes.

Finally she stopped in a spot she felt was the spot.  Whatever the was, it was here.  And she felt it coming to a boil in her veins, in her brain, deep in her gut.

She steeled herself against what might happen, what might have happened to Ryan McKay and, in effect, what might happen to her when the visions came. Then she reached down her wet hand and laid the tips of the first two fingers on her right hand on the ground.

Mazie fell to her knees and cried out as lights and colors filled her head, a sensation of falling forever made her vision swirl and her balance was for nothing.  She lay writhing in the wet leaves, her fingers stuck to the ground, trying to shake off these feelings of pain and confusion.  She saw nothing of Ryan McKay and everything of an eternity spent in darkness.  She felt lonely.  She cried.  She wanted to scream but something inside made all of her muscles suddenly seize and she froze on the ground, her back arched, stomach up, legs curled back with her right arm twisted backward over her shoulder and her fingers still pressed into the dirt.  Her head cocked dangerously to the left.  Her mouth hung open and she spilled drool down her cheek.  A sound came from her throat in a voice she knew wasn’t hers.  Her left arm was so tense the muscles shook and twitched.

Everything inside her was violence and hurt.

Then it passed through her like a wave, starting at her toes and rising up her body, making her pee her pants, churning her gut, issuing another scream from her throat, making her vision go dark for a moment. Her head felt like her skull was cracking, and finally it went out through her raised fingertips and back into the ground and Mazie lost contact and quickly scurried back from the area, then fell weeping in the leaves and mud, crying out every ounce of shame and loneliness she had felt since her powers first emerged.

“No good,” she said, tears streaming down her face.  “It’s no good.  I didn’t see him.  I don’t know.”

She had feared coming away from this trip with nothing to offer the parents of Ryan McKay, and that’s exactly what had happened.  But it was even worse because she knew now there was no way she could continue to live in Angel Hill with a presence like that in town.  And while the idea of leaving the only place she’d ever known terrified her, the idea of ever coming into contact with something that strong again filled her with a hopelessness she knew would never be overcome.  So the decision, really, wasn’t even something she had to consider.  Mazie had to leave Angel Hill as soon as possible.

Click for info on other Will Castleton books and stories

Click for info on other Angel Hill books and stories

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight,the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelsThe Ghosts of Mertland and The American Way just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a large newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length (80,000-word) story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill, which combines my and Dennis’ series. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. Dennis chose this week’s review challenge: TRIP WITH THE TEACHER.

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TRIP WITH THE TEACHER

by David Bain

One out of five stars

Ick.

That’s how I felt, watching the second half of this film.

ZalmanIt’s about some teenage girls in the seventies who are on a field trip when their bus breaks down. They encounter a trio of bikers, one good, one bad, one less bad, all of them stupid. The bad bikers, brothers and ex-cons,  aren’t going back to prison, man, but the girls have seen them behaving badly, so what’s a psycho to do but lock the girls up in a cabin and intimidate, harass, rape and murder them as they put up, meh, some resistance here and there when they’re not too busy being a sixth-grade boy’s idea of attractive high school girls – that last bit is as much a part of the ick factor as the rape and murder.

The thing actually starts out kind of promising, as far as B movies go. Zalman King (who went on to direct all sorts of sexy schlock like Two Moon Junction and Wild Orchid) stars as Al, the badder of the two bad biker bros, and he’s genuinely creepy, wearing thuggish, vaguely sci-fi wrap-around shades for the first third of the flick – imagine Bono with an even uglier mug, a giant(er) schnoz and black Robert Plant curls. King’s effectively loathsome, snickering to himself, acting all disaffected and, oh yeah, killing a good ol’ boy mechanic who didn’t like the bikers’ looks.

This last happens unbeknownst to the other bikers – but we, the audience say, “Ah-hah! This Al guy’s a crrrrazy stone killer!”

Adds suspense and whatnot.

Boo, hiss, bad Al!

So, fine, we’ve got our innocent damsels on the bus, talking about boys and school, and we’ve got some menacing types inevitably closing in on them, with a good biker thrown into the mix to potentially save them.

A perfect set-up for fun and tension.

So how could this turn out to be almost unwatchable?

Yes, it’s a B movie from the ‘70s, so you expect bad acting, stupid dialogue, dumb plot twists, second rate music and an obviously stoned cameraman. That’s part of what we came for. All that’s forgiven before the fact.

The problem with Trip with the Teacher is the girls, on a couple levels.

The first is their acting. They’re wooden, all of them. They deliver their lines as if programmed, as if there’s a teleprompter just off screen and they’ve never read the script.

But the main problem is the way the females are presented. No wonder their acting is wooden – the script and the filmmakers expect them to be nothing whatsoever but their age and their gender.

Watching ‘70s exploitation in our era, you can’t help but wonder what Tarantino would do with the same material. (I’m serious – just try to watch a forty year-old cheap movie without QT popping into your head. Can’t be done, I tells ya!)

So WWQTD? Well, for one thing, he’d give the girls something to work with – they’d each have a distinct personality. Oh, there’s something approaching a miniscule afterthought of effort in this direction – one’s a slut, one’s quiet, the older one’s a teacher and reads some stuff out loud from a pamphlet about where they’re going and reminds them how lucky they are for the experience, yadda, yadda.

But I’m sure there were other girls than these and I remember absolutely nothing about them.

So then, Al gets mean(er) once he has the girls in captivity. There are degredations galore. There are escape attempts resulting in merciless death, which the camera watches for way to long, just as there are rapes the camera doesn’t shy away from soon enough.

One could argue realism. Hell, it probably would go down something like this except for the women of wood and the moronic, predictable dues ex machina ending.

I’m not that squeamish when it comes to film. Nothing wrong with realistically portraying victimhood. Sometimes it sucks being a human and sometimes it sucks having a brain and blood and flesh and nerve endings. And every now and then a suspense or horror movie reminds us of this in a way we can’t deny or look away from. There are good movies which make anyone civilized cringe – a recent trip to the dentist reminded me of Marathon Man, for instance, and its legendary dental torture scene. I’ll vociferously defend that scene to any and all detractors.

But Trip with the Teacher was tough to watch because, first of all, Zalman King is no Laurence Olivier, but mostly because, while I did care that a woman was being humiliated, killed or raped, I wasn’t allowed to care about an actual person with achievements, aspirations, a life behind and possibly ahead of her.

And the teacher and surviving girls seem tearfully happy at the end of it all, hugging in the sunshine, apparently forgetting there are less of them now than when they set foot on the bus, wistfully wiping away the humiliations, the molestations, etc., along with a tear or two.

The problem with Trip with the Teacher is that the movie unintentionally sees its female cast the same way its antagonists do –weak, depersonalized, just waiting to be victims.

Anything else in the film – the motorcycle chases, the girls’ out-of-the-blue rescue … sigh, you’ve seen it before. Not particularly worth tuning in. The first twenty minutes or whatever are worth a look at King in those amazing shades, but after that Trip with the Teacher ’s nothing but trash and ickuninspired trash and not a good kind of ick.

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TRIP WITH THE TEACHER

by C. Dennis Moore

Three out of five stars

There are so many things about Earl Barton’s 1975 masterpiece TRIP WITH THE TEACHER that utterly confound me, that I don’t even know where to start.  Maybe with the plot.

Miss Tenny, a teacher, I’m assuming, has brought along four teenage girls, presumably four of her high school students, on a field trip to the middle of the desert to study Navajo ruins and whatnot.  They’ve rented a short bus with a goofy driver, Marvin, and are going to be gone for a couple of days. I know it was 1975, but the notion that just one teacher is in charge–even if it is only four students–with this slimy bus driver who is obviously a predator, out in the middle of nowhere, on a very small bus, for days at a time . . . I don’t think so.  That’s one permission slip that’s not getting signed.

Then there’s Jay Andrews, motorcycle enthusiast, who comes upon two other biker boys along the side of the road.  One of them, Pete, has a flat tire while Pete’s brother, Al, lounges on the ground by the side of the road to catch some zzzz’s.  Jay’s got a hot patch kit and a hand pump and he helps out his fellow aficionados, then offers to ride with them into town where Pete can get his tire fixed properly.  When Al wakes up before they take off his first comment is, “What’s he still doing here?”

That would be my cue.  See ya, Pete, good luck with your handful there.  But Jay’s a bit of a dim bulb, and is WAY too happy to be out on the road eating dust and bugs.

The bikers eventually run into the school bus and follow it to a gas station where the bikers flirt with the high school girls before the bus takes off again.  Meanwhile back at the station, Al kills the service station attendant who smarted off to him.  Jay and Pete don’t know what Al’s done, and the three hop back on their hogs (does a Kawasaki dirt bike qualify as a hog?), and hit the open road again.

Down the road, the bus has broken down.  Could be a clogged fuel line or a bad fuel pump.  Marvin the bus driver can’t fix it, but when the bikers arrive on the scene, maybe one of them can.  Pete offers to take a look while Al tries to make time with Bobbie, the slut of the group.  Pete admits he can’t fix the bus and Miss Tenny asks if they’ll call someone to come help them out once the guys get to the nearest town.  And this is where the movie really stops even trying to make sense.  Instead of just saying “Sure,” Pete tells her “It’s okay with me, if it’s okay with him.”  Him being Al.  Why exactly does he need to check with his brother, who is obviously a sociopath, before agreeing to help five women stranded in the middle of nowhere?  And why not just ask Jay, who’s clearly a decent guy.  Better yet, why did Jay not just offer to go for help himself?

So Al says sure, I’ll get you some help.  If you let me take Bobbie into the hills on the my bike and give her what for.  Um . . . probably not, dude.  Then Jay gets the bright idea to tie some ropes to their bikes and tow the bus.  How would that even work?  I mean, if you saw the bikes these guys were riding, there’s no way.  And then, instead of towing it to town, they tow it to an abandoned shack even further in the middle of nowhere.

Marvin tries to stand up for the girls, but he gets a broken neck for his troubles, and again, at this point, Jay could have gotten away.  He even says to one of the girls, “If one of us can get away, they’ll run.”  Dude, you’ve got a motorcycle.  You’re like the prime candidate for running.  WTF?

So instead of getting on his bike and going for help, Jay winds up in the shack with the rest of the girls, sitting against the wall while the brothers sit and drink bourbon.  And again, the plot makes no sense.  They’re in this run down cabin with broken boards and loose pipes laying all around.  It’s six to two and all the brothers have is Al’s little pocket knife.  They couldn’t gang up and overpower these dudes?

Anyway, Miss Tenny is raped, Jay escapes and is run over a cliff by Pete, one of the girls escapes, and is killed by Al while the other three girls and Miss Tenny sit idly by under the watchful and drunken gaze of Pete until Al returns hours later.  Al then rapes Bobbie and everyone falls asleep.

The next morning rescue comes, the brothers are killed, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Except Miss Tenny and Bobbie who will spend the rest of their lives in therapy, not to mention a couple of hefty lawsuits I’d say from some very angry parents.  Despite her smiles and hugs with the girls at the end of the movie, I have a feeling Miss Tenny’s teaching career is over.

Yeah, I think writer/director Earl Barton didn’t bother to think about that part of the continuing story when he ended on that note.  Maybe that’s why TRIP WITH THE TEACHER was the only movie he wrote and directed?

Taking obvious cues from Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which was released two years earlier, Barton’s created a pretty unforgiving villain in Al, easily the equal of Craven’s Krug in terms of sheer insane evil.  Zalman King (of ZALMAN KING’S RED SHOE DIARIES) eats it up as the sociopathic Al, to the point I had a hard time watching just because there is a point at which the top has been gone so far over you just can’t stomach anymore.  In normal circumstances I understand giving yourself over to the character is a plus, but when that character has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever, well, it’s tough to watch.  And not in a good way.

The rest of the cast is pretty much just there to say their lines and go back home, no one else really has much to do in the face of Al’s commanding presence.

The quality of the movie is pretty poor.  The colors are washed out and the sound is nearly incomprehensible at times.  I certainly hope I didn’t miss any important plot points in the muddle. The movie is 89 minutes, and for the first 60 it feels much longer.  The last 20 minutes speed by like nothing, though, and then the credits take up the change, but for the first hour I was checking the time constantly.  The pace was sluggish as hell and I feared it would be one of those movies where nothing happens and we’re just supposed to assume the tension and feel something for these characters.  Well, it’s hard to feel anything for the characters when they could clearly save themselves if they stopped being such victims and learn to count!

The plot is a well-used one, even well-done in the right circumstances.  I’m thinking now of the 1986 tv movie “Fortress” starring Rachel Ward about the field trip teacher and her students who are kidnapped and how they fight back.  It’s a great movie; I only saw it when it first came on TV, but I’ve never forgotten it.  So this theme CAN be done right,  TRIP WITH THE TEACHER just doesn’t happen to be one of those cases.

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