You can now pre-order my forthcoming weird Western RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS exclusively on Kobo - release date is March 18! Members of my newsletter will start receiving the sequel, SILVER STALLION, as a monthly serial starting the same day!

Don’t worry about word count.

Wait. If you have a deadline, and you have to have a certain number of words due by that deadline, then, yes, absolutely worry about word count. If you have word-work for which you are gonna get paid, yes, start cranking and counting!

But if you’re, say, an indie writer with a full-time job with an awesome novel in your head and you’re so busy you’re only piddling it out 200 words at a time, realize that you’re actually doing just fine.

If you despair when you hear stories about full-timers who crank out 2,000 words, 4,000 words, 8,000 words or more per day and sometimes go on sprees, shooting off 15,000- or even 30,000 words in a 24-hour period, realize that your despair is worthless and almost certainly counterproductive.

With today’s economy, lots of aspiring writers are working three part-time jobs – often on top of raising a family – and are literally squeezing the writing in during literal spare moments.

If you’ve ever broken down in hysterics because you’ve realized you’ve already failed with no hope to recover after the second day of NaNoWriMo, you’re not alone – for some schedules, a spare solid hour to devote exclusively to writing really is impossible to find.

I’ve written about this before in a post called “Time and the Non Full-Time Writer”, in which I advocate a daily word count goal of just 100 words per day.

Yes, you read that correctly.

One-hundred words per day.

Two zeroes. Not three.

The gist of the post is that anyone, with any schedule, can squirt out 100 words per day. That’s five, ten minutes of scribbling in a back pocket notebook during a bathroom break.

I introduced this “bathroom break method” to my students yesterday, and, looking at that post again, I realized I wasn’t thorough with the math. So let’s break it down real quick.

The Science Fiction Writers of America stipulate that a novel is any work of 40,000 words or more. Given, that’s a really short novel – we’re probably talking a slim Western or Harlequin romance or pulp detective novel, a la Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels. Sixty-thousand to 80,000 words is probably more typical, with epic fantasies and the like stretching toward 200,000 words or longer.

But still, I’ve found the “bathroom break method” math can buoy the despairing writer:

For example, most of my students’ papers are about 1,000 to 1,500 words in length. “Six pages!” they gripe and moan or sometimes even shriek in horror.

Then I point out to them that they usually have two weeks or more warning. Even at 100 words a day – bathroom break writing – there’s no excuse for not getting them done.

But you and I are talking about a novel here, right? Not even the same ballpark.

Well, actually, it is.

Lookit. Do your bathroom break writing for just one year: 100 words/day x 365 days = 36,500.

I’m writing this on February 26, 2014. If I’d started work on The Secret Notebook in the Stall: Book One of The Adventures of Loo Scribe, Bathroom Break Detective on New Year’s Day, 2013, the completed novel could be up on Amazon right now, available for purchase.

Write using the bathroom break method for just two years and you have your full-length novel.

Plod along for five years and your bookshelf-bending epic fantasy novel sees fruition.

And, as I pointed out in the earlier post, most days you’ll get more than 100 words. You simply will – it’s the nature of the beast. And consider: Twenty extra bathroom break words a day and your short novel is done, with the ebook already selling online, before Christmas.

Word counts aren’t worth worrying about – what’s worth worrying about is the next 100 words, not the next thousand.

Word counts are also not worth bragging about.

What’s worth bragging about is that you’re showing up at your desk each day and typing (or in that bathroom stall with your notebook and scribbling).

What’s worth bragging about is a completed novel.

And think about this too – what’s really worth bragging about is that you managed to write your opus despite working three part-time jobs and raising a family.

What’s worth bragging about is that you wrote it under circumstances where most would-be writers give up.

Every 90 days, I let readers vote on the next story I’ll write. I give the story away free to the members of my Friends of Bain newsletter and offer it for the regular price at all the ebook stores.

I was very, very surprised by the two winners this time around. At first we had a runaway leader – readers obviously want more stories featuring characters from my “Riders of the Weird West” series, introduced in “The Cowboys of Cthulhu” and my quickly forthcoming novel RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS (You can read the first four chapters here).

But then a curious thing happened. Toward the end of voting readers started selecting a stand alone Green River story to be called “His Teacher’s Voice” about a teacher who one day starts lecturing in the voice of his deceased mentor.

The lead went back and forth and … ended in a tie.

So I’m writing both.

In their next newsletter, due 1/26/14, The Friends of Bain will get five days to vote for which of these two they receive free. The newsletter will receive the free story on 3/18/14, but I’ll also make the runner-up available to them at a discount.

The ideas I offered placed in this order:
1. New “Riders of the Weird West” story/”His Teacher’s Voice”
2. A new Shin & Skulk sword & sorcery story (Shin & Skulk appear in “The Pit of Cormair” and “Shin’s Silent Quest”)
3. A sequel combining elements of my stories “Cauldron Car” and “Brujas Behind Bars”
(Readers don’t know this yet, but they will by the end of this sentence: These two stories will be collected with other previously published and new ones later this year in a collection to be called TALES OF THE MODERN MAGE WARS.)
4. A Green River story called “The Man Who Never Stopped Running.”
5. A metafictional project in which I cowrite a story or two with a writer character from my forthcoming novel THE CARE AND FEEDING OF MICHAEL ANTHONY ZEE.
6. A story detailing the fate of Mike Menger from my novel GRAY LAKE.

Some analysis:

I’m excited and surprised by the fact that the characters from “The Cowboys of Cthulhu” won. It’s a relatively popular short story – but it’s only a short story. They’ll be back in RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS, but readers have only had a chance to take in the first four chapters thus far. The win here bodes well for a fun, successful series that I’m thrilled to keep writing in!

I’m also frankly floored that drug-dealing burn victim and biting enthusiast Mike Menger didn’t get more votes. He seems to be a reader favorite from GRAY LAKE, as far as reviews and Twitter and email seem concerned. Can’t explain it, and I’m not going to try to. The thing is, I do know what happens to him after he disappears from Green River, and I’m compelled to eventually write that story – a series of stories, actually.

I’m also surprised by the love for Shin and Skulk. I’ve only published two of their odd sword and sorcery stories, buried in collections which otherwise focus on crime and horror. Seeing the votes, I’m inspired to put together a small collection. There are several out-of-print Shin and Skulk stories and I’d probably write a new one, but I’m not sure when that would fit into my schedule. The epic fantasy duo coming in a close second to the winners makes me eager to pursue this, however.

The next round of voting is already open. You can vote until March 18. The winning story is due to be published June 16.

ig POSSIBLE“Give it away now!”The Red Hot Chili Peppers

So let me be totally transparent, right at the beginning here: I give so many stories away because I want you to enjoy them and learn to trust my storytelling enough that you’ll eventually buy my books and collections. There’s no subterfuge to this. I simply want to give you the repeated opportunity to read and like my work.

I have a few permanently free ebooks out there – like Island Ghosts, pictured to the left – plus I give a series of twenty of my short stories and story samplers away free, each for five days at a time, on a rotational basis, over the course of every 90 days on Amazon – and I plan to, over the course of 2014, start doing the same on Kobo.

I also give away a brand new, freshly written free story every 90 days to all members of my newsletter, The Friends of Bain. (Even if you don’t want to join The Friends of Bain you can still vote for which story I’ll write next at http://smarturl.it/VoteForBain – the stories also become available at the regular price at all the ebook stores.)

Plus I gphoenix blood beforeive the Friends a new story from my Will Castleton series every Christmas, and it remains a newsletter exclusive – you get it when signing up – for an entire year. (The current member-exclusive Will Castleton is PHOENIX BLOOD, seen at left, a prequel to ISLAND GHOSTS.)

The freebies currently add up to more than two-dozen of the tales I’ve produced since I started writing professionally about twenty years ago – actually they’ll add up to about forty tales, since the Kobo freebies will be different from those at Amazon. (I want to be careful not to violate any of Amazon’s KDP Select rules….)

A few friends have seen what I’m doing and accused me of not valuing my work. They say: “So those stories you’re handing out, they’re just the throw-aways, right? They must be, if you’re giving them away free!”

First of all: Hell, no!

Secondly: Hell, no, again!

Yes, I give away a lot of my stories. But this is an important point:  I’m not giving away the losers or dregs. Truth is, I don’t have any half-assed attempts out there to give away in the first place. Yes, I experiment and take chances. Yes, you’ll like some stories better than others. Give them however many stars you want on Amazon, just know I’ve never phoned it in. I’ve always punched it as hard as I could for each and every story, using everything I have in my writing arsenal.

Because I owe that to you.

And I owe it to myself.

That said, it’s true I don’t give my novellas, collections or novels away like I do my short stories – but it’s not that I value them more. I value every single word I write, whatever the final tally – and I want to prove that to you, more than twenty times over the course of 90 days, as you get to know me. The Friends of Bain newsletter – http://smarturl.it/FriendsOfBain - gives you a quick reminder every time a new story becomes free, plus you get that exclusive Will Castleton adventure just for joining. I hope that, by the end of that 90 days, you stay on and receive the additional five brand new stories from me per year .

As for my business model, simply put … well, free is the way things work these days. Let me use a music analogy. I grew up on FM radio, but I love that the internet allows you to find awesome bands the radio won’t even touch. For example, back in 2005 or so, one of my now-favorite bands, The Hold Steady, allowed free downloads of their song “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”. I’d never heard of these guys but downloaded the song on a whim at the suggestion of a music blogger. I thought it was a killer rock tune, so I Youtubed a few more by THS, and then a lot more, and I soon discovered this band not only brings it  - they bring it hard every single time, plus they show an almost ecstatic love for their audience. I bought their album BOYS AND GIRLS IN AMERICA and that simply sealed the deal. I now own every album and pre-order the next, plus I have everything the band members have done solo or in former bands and side projects. I drive three hours or more to see their shows every year, buy their t-shirts and swag, and allow their official fan group, The Unified Scene, to automatically post band announcements directly on  my Twitter account.

All because I once download a free song.

I would never have chanced upon The Hold Steady on the radio, at least not out here in the Indiana boondocks where Toby Keith is the radio’s poet laureate. (Don’t get me wrong. I can abide some country music – and I actually own every volume of Toby’s Greatest Hits – but for me a little country radio goes a long, long way.)

Similarly, while a few stories I’ve had published in anthologies and even a book or two of mine sit on the shelves of a used bookstore somewhere or a couple libraries here and there – good luck locating which ones, and if you do, you might have to drive a few times farther than even I would for a Hold Steady concert. I’ve also heard a report that someone once spotted an anthology I was in at an actual brick and mortar bookstore, but they didn’t take a picture, alas, so I still have no concrete proof.

It comes down to this – as a grassroots, by my own bootstraps indie writer, the free stories are my radio songs, my mp3s, my library reads, my used bookstore finds.  I know there are people out there content to just listen to their favorite song when it pops up on the radio, people whose iPods are filled with pirated songs, people who don’t own a single book but raid the library like I raid the buffet at King Dragon. And, really, that’s fine. Because if you like my stories enough to sign up for The Friends of Bain, and you grab your twenty initial free ebooks, then just kick back and collect your five free stories per year and don’t ever buy a thing, well, at least maybe you’ll leave some reviews or tell a friend and they’ll buy something or tell another friend  and – hey! We’re both still getting something out of this, right?

The truth is, whether or not you’re giving me money, I want you to enjoy the stories. I’ll keep cranking on them, hard as I can, for as long as I can.

But I couldn’t do this without you.

Thank you, sincerely, for being a part of it.

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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phoenix blood beforeby David Bain

Want to know what happened to Will Castleton immediately before the events in ISLAND GHOSTS?

My most faithful readers are about to find out!

ISLAND GHOSTS, a short story featuring my paranormal investigator Will Castleton, has been free on Amazon for a year or two now. Readers download hundreds of copies every month. The story takes place while Will is still a U.S. Marshal and supposedly on leave on a Florida key following a particularly violent and traumatic case. But Will’s tropical vacation is no escape from his past. The reporter who cashed in on the tragedy resulting in Will’s psychic abilities is hot on his trail as Will races time through a hurricane to save a woman’s life.

I realized the other day that the time has come for me to tell the story of that horrific case which forced Will to take that mandatory R&R. The time had come to write the prequel to ISLAND GHOSTS.

The working title is PHOENIX BLOOD. Set in Phoenix Arizona, PHOENIX BLOOD will prove to be one of the most suspenseful, grueling and action-packed episodes in Will’s life. During his most terrifying and intense vision ever, Will must simultaneously protect a witness and search out a sadistic killer.

And, as I hinted above, the new story will only be available to the most faithful of my readers. PHOENIX BLOOD, which I hope to deliver by Christmas, will only be offered to current and new newsletter subscribers. I won’t be putting it in a collection or on Amazon or my writer website or anywhere else for at least a year – after which I plan to offer subscribers another exclusive story.

You can sign up for my newsletter now at davidbainfreebooks@gmail.com. Just send me a note saying you’d like to be signed up.

I remain honored, humbled and awed that anyone reads and enjoys my work, and I want to pay especially devoted readers back. I only send out newsletters a couple times a year, usually for new books or major sales, and I always try to include something special for those who take the time to sign up and trust me with their email. This is just one example. Thanks, again, for reading.

***

Syrus Cover w. NameAlso, I want to note again that another new Will Castleton story, “The House in Cyrus Holler” – a short novel, actually – will be appearing sometime, probably earlier than later, in the new year, in PIERCING THE DARKNESS, a new charity anthology from Necro Press.

I’m especially excited about this one, first of all, because it’s a charity anthology for a great cause, Children’s Literacy Initiative, secondly because the rumor is Will gets to bat cleanup, holding down the sacred closing position in the book and, last but not least, because I’ll be in some truly awesome company. The table of contents – which you can get a sneak peek of here - also contains stellar writers like Joe Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, F. Paul Wilson, Edward Lee, Kealan Patrick Burke, C. Dennis Moore, Jeff Strand, Brian Keene, Simon Wood, Gary Braunbeck and still more – it’s like a horror writer’s dream team!

“Cyrus Holler” is, for me, at once an homage to old time radio and probably the craziest Castleton story I’ve ever written – there’s ghosts, monsters, mutated hillbillies, time travel, interdimensional travel, narrow escapes, you name it, I tried to pack it in there! Had an absolute blast writing it, and I can’t wait to share it with readers! Watch this space for more news on this one as I learn it!

by David Bain

I googled myself yesterday and rediscovered some old poems I’d published and lost – here - and here - which led me to a small excavation project in my office.

During which I discovered MIDNIGHT POSSE a book containing my weird Western novel RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS.

This was an anthology “edited” by the “publisher” of The Company That Shall Not Be Named, for which I exerted much energy Riders coverabout a decade ago as an editor (notice lack of quotes when it comes to my effort – no one but the “Editor”/”Publisher” ever got paid for MIDNIGHT POSSE (or anything else “Publisher” ever produced), but somehow Joe R. Lansdale his own self wrote the introduction to this particular collection…)

MIDNIGHT POSSE also features work by the lovely and talented Angeline Hawkes-Craig (go buy anything by her and/or her hubby Christopher Fulbright and you won’t be disappointed!) and the less lovely but also exceedingly talented Canadian indie pulpmeister G. W. Thomas (his “Book Collector” stories are the bomb!). The three other stories included in MIDNIGHT POSSE are not worthy of mention and I suspect they were very likely written by “Editor”/”Publisher” himself, making them even more suspect. (I shall now go pour dish soap in my eyes, having read “Editor”/”Publisher”‘s name again (perhaps even in pseudonymous triplicate! Ugh!))

Were you indeed to expend the energy to locate one of the very, very, very, very, very few copies that were ever sold of this odd pup of a book, you’d also find in its pages a (not so) short novel I wrote, RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS. It’s not a weird Western. It’s an exceedingly weird Western. Time  travel. Inter-dimensional travel. Shoot-outs. Dragons. And that’s just for starters.

Perhaps the coolest thing about RIDERS WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS: It features Dr. Darius Darke and James “Gentleman Jim” Dunsworth “The Demon Duelist” Brodie, characters from my relatively popular long short story “The Cowboys of Cthulhu.” Several readers have asked to see more from the “Cowboys” characters. (See the Amazon reviews). Well, okay, readers, here you go. RIDERS features these two heroes of my alternate Old West in their afterlives, but, holy six-guns! What an afterlife! (Like I said, this might well be the loopiest thing I’ve ever written.)

So why C. Dennis Moore should be mad at me: I spent an hour tonight retyping (and, yes, editing) the first 1,500 words of RIDERS when I’d planned to plow forward on RETURN TO ANGEL HILL – the Will Castleton novel which combines Dennis’s world (check out his Angel Hill novels, if you haven’t) and mine, and which will probably be nowhere near finished by Christmas, despite past optimism in that direction.

But I’m fascinated by RIDERS because a) I remember practically nothing about it – it’s a constant revelation as I reread/type it – and b) it has themes about age/redemption/struggle which resonate with personal stuff in my life right now.

I have no idea how much rewriting I’ll do. It might end up being close to or entirely different from the original publication, which was probably purchased by the contributors and … maybe a dozen other people, if we were that lucky – and I doubt we were. I reserve complete creative control over the final project. If you really have to see the book in its original form, a copy appears to be in the stacks at the library at Bowling Green University, of all places, because some severely disturbed grad student apparently had some sway there.

Watch this space for more info as I continue revising and preparing to (re)release this (not so) short novel…

I have no idea how long this retyping/editing process will go on, but count this among the (too) many projects I’ve announced and owe.

Here, just to entice you, are the chapter titles (at least as they were previously published):

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