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Hell's Bounty

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Hell's Bounty

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Author: Joe R. Lansdale
John L. Lansdale
Publisher: Subterranean Press, 2016

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags: Weird (Horror)
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We're pleased to announce a weird western novel by the brothers Lansdale, one with a killer cover by Timothy Truman.

If the Western town of Falling Rock isn't dangerous enough due to drunks, fast guns and greedy miners, it gets a real dose of ugly when a soulless, dynamite-loving bounty hunter named Smith rides into town to bring back a bounty, dead or alive -- preferably dead. In the process, Smith sets off an explosive chain of events that send him straight to the waiting room in Hell where he is offered a one-time chance to absolve himself.

Satan, a bartender also known as Snappy, wants Smith to hurry back to earth and put a very bad hombre out of commission. Someone Smith has already met in the town of Falling Rock. A fellow named Quill, who has, since Smith's departure, sold his soul to the Old Ones, and has been possessed by a nasty, scaly, winged demon with a cigar habit and a bad attitude. Quill wants to bring about the destruction of the world, not to mention the known universe, and hand it all over: moon, stars, black spaces, cosmic dust, as well as all of humanity, to the nasty Lovecraftian deities that wait on the other side of the veil. It's a bargain made in worse places than Hell.

Even Satan can't stand for that kind of dark business. The demon that has possessed Quill, a former co-worker of Satan, has gone way too far, and there has to be a serious correction.

And though Smith isn't so sure humanity is that big of a loss, the alternative of him cooking eternally while being skewered on a meat hook isn't particularly appealing. Smith straps on a gift from Snappy, a holstered Colt pistol loaded with endless silver ammunition, and riding a near-magical horse named Shadow, carrying an amazing deck of cards that can summon up some of the greatest gunfighters and killers the west has ever known, he rides up from hell, and back into Falling Rock, a town that can be entered, but can't be left.

It's a opportunity not only for Smith to experience action and adventure and deal with the living dead and all manner of demonic curses and terrible prophecies, it's a shot at love with a beautiful, one-eyed, redheaded-darling with a whip, a woman named Payday. But it's an even bigger shot at redemption.

Saddle up, partner. It's time to ride into an old fashioned pulp and horror adventure full of gnashing teeth, exploding dynamite, pistol fire, and a few late night kisses.


Part One:
A Whiff of Sulfer


A full moon hung at the peak of a shadowy mountain like a gold coin on a pedestal, shining thin light into the narrow canyon below. Above it all, shimmering white dots filled the dark velvet sky. A lone wolf's howl echoed across the canyon as if it were trying to call up the dead. When the howl faded, the ground began to shake, rumbling louder and louder.

At the summit of a narrow, rising grade, an old boarded up mine shaft trembled and dripped dirt. The boards in front of the mine cracked and blew out in a spin of splinters and dust. A dark cloud coughed out of the shaft, soared toward the sky, temporarily blotted out the moon. The cloud tore apart with a screech, burst into a horde of chattering bats flying in all directions, once again revealing the gold doubloon moon.

The bats flew a short distance, merged, and raced toward a smattering of lights from the town of Falling Rock. In one elegant swoop they dove, soared above the dusty street that centered the town, fluttered past the sound of a plinking piano and shrill laughter spilling out of the dimly lit Sundown Saloon.

Horses out front, tied to the hitching post, began to snort. The twisted mass of bats rose up and appeared to swim through the sky, toward a church belfry, toward the tall bell tower there, gathered in it thick as wet rot, and once collected there, there was a puffing sound and a thick twirl of black shadow. The shadow hardened, formed a dark image with eyes like wounds. Wings flapped from the shape's back, gathered up moonlight and folded it into the wings and tossed it out again. It flexed its hands and took in a breath so deep the night sky seemed to shudder.

With a flip of a dark hand, a small box became visible. With a touch of its other hand, the box lid sprang open and red lights jumped out of the box like inflamed grasshoppers. The lights twisted into odd shapes and the little shapes darted about the tower and ricocheted off the huge bell like gunfire. Then they slowed and went for the inside of the bell and clung to it, hissed like ants on a hot skillet, burned themselves into its interior. Finally, they were still and the hissing stopped and the glowing stopped and what they left imprinted deep in the metal of the bell were hieroglyphic-like impressions.

The shadowy thing snapped the box closed and let out with a sound like it had just eaten something tasty. The box was deftly put away and the great winged shadow leaped from the tower, fell for a long distance, then flapping its leathery wings, rose up against the moonlight briefly, sailed away, filling the air with a whiff of sulfur.


The bat wings of the Sundown Saloon cracked open and a little man flew through them, out into the street, another man's boot flashing at the end of his ass. The little man's bowler hat came loose from his head and rolled around in the dirt before lying down with a wobble.

The man who had kicked the little man came into the street. He had a smashed hat in one hand and a bottle in the other. He looked mean enough to eat floor tacks and shit horseshoes.

"You little worm," the mean man said. "Ain't nobody sits on Trumbo Quill's hat."

The man in the street hiked a leg under him and made it to his feet. He eyed his hat but decided against it. He took off running.

Taking his time, Trumbo Quill put his hat on his head and pulled his revolver and fired. The little man, who had actually covered a pretty good patch of ground, threw his leg forward in what looked like a goose step, did a stumble step, and went to one knee. He hung there for a moment then fell on his face in the dusty street and rolled on his back. He set up and took hold of his knee. The bullet had gone through the back of his leg and popped loose the knee cap, splintered it. There was a hole there big enough to hide a plum.

Quill came and stood over the little man and said, "How're you feelin'?"

"God, Quill. You done ruined my knee."

"I'd say the whole leg, wouldn't you? Your dancin' days is over, if you ever had any."

"I can't walk. You've ruined me."

"I think you're right. Well, can't leave you that way."

Quill lifted the pistol and fired. The shot took off the top of the little man's head.

"See," Quill said. "All better now."

Quill lifted the bottle in his other hand and finished it off. Without moving toward the saloon, he yelled out, "Hey, Double Shot, bring me another bottle."

After a moment the bat wings moved and a tall, skinny, near bald man moved through them, briskly made his way over to Quill. He looked down at the little dead man as he handed Quill the bottle.

Quill said, "Put it on my tab." Then he looked at the little man on the ground, back at Double Shot. "Ain't none of your kin, is he?"

Double Shot shook his head.

"That's good, cause in case you hadn't noticed, little sonofabitch is dead. I'm gonna take me a walk. Have him out of the street before I get back. Nothin' I hate worse than a dead man in the street."

"Yes, sir," Double Shot said.

Double Shot went back in the saloon. Quill uncorked the new bottle with his teeth and took a jolt, went trudging back toward the saloon where the little man's bowler hat lay, and stepped on it, smashing it flat. He then turned and went up the street, pausing now and again to take a swig. At the end of the street, Quill passed a marker that said BOOT HILL.

He'd put a lot of men there and one woman. He hadn't liked her singing, caterwauling was more like it. She had sounded like a cat with a stick up its ass. Even the horny miners and cowboys in the saloon applauded when she hit the floor. She was not only a terrible singer, she'd had a face that could drop a raccoon out of a tree at twenty paces. Her piano player caught some of the blame too. He had been pretty swift, however, and he had made it to the door before Quill fired, punching a hole through the back of his head with a well placed shot. They were finding that piano man's teeth in the street for three, four days. Little boys gathered them up and put them on strings and wore them around their necks as mementos of the gun fight. There was even a little song they made up that went something like "He played the ivory teeth, but lost his in the street."

Quill thought it was a glorious shoot out. Course, only Quill had a gun. He felt it worked better that way, less tension on his behalf.

Quill went up the hill, and at its peak he came to a tombstone under a big oak that leaked shadow on the ground. Quill stopped there and took off his hat and placed it on the tombstone. He dropped to his knees and used the bottle of whisky to support himself.

To his left, unnoticed by Quill, a shadow perched on top of a nearby tombstone. It flicked its wings and twisted its head like a curious dog. It watched Quill carefully with its glowing eyes, watched as he pulled grass from around the grave, tossed it behind him.

A voice like thunder inside a cave said: "Would you like to have her back?"

Quill dropped the bottle, came to a crouch, pistol drawn, aiming between the glowing eyes. When Quill saw the thing he inhaled sharply.

"What in the hell are you?"

"You loved your wife, didn't you," said the winged shadow, the wings moving gently.

"How do you know about-- What are you?"

"I'm your wish come true."

Quill cocked back the hammer of his revolver. "What wish?"

"I can give her back to you."

Quill swallowed. "No you can't."

"Oh, I can."

"I'll shoot you off there like the buzzard you are. You tauntin' sonofabitch."

The shadow lifted its wings and the night air moved with the motion.

"You're just some drunk dream," Quill said.

"I can give her back."

Quill made with a sound that might have been a laugh. "If you could, I'd sell my soul."

The dark head of the shadow broke open and showed a smile. Lots of sharp teeth, yellow in the moonlight. The shadow stretched its right hand; it appeared to leak ink, and the next thing Quill knew the hand was long and then longer and it grabbed his own; the shadows from the arm dropped along the ground and flowed, and then the thing was no longer on the stone; it was standing right in front of him, holding his hand, the one gripping the pistol. He tried to pull the trigger, but the gun was taken from him as easily as a rattle from a baby and dropped to the ground.

Weak with nausea, Quill dropped to one knee and the shadow moved swiftly, drawing its claw-like hand across Quill's palm, cutting deep. Quill looked up at the shadow as it spread its wings wide, said, "Done."

"You are real," Quill said.


"You're him...the one down there."

The thing split its face apart and showed the yellow teeth again.


"You took my soul?"

"Not yet. But soon. Pick up your gun."

Quill's hand shook as he picked up the revolver and stuck it in the holster. The shadow shape said, "First, your reward."

The shape turned its head and looked toward the grave Quill had been brooding over. The grave trembled and the dried dirt became soft and began to shift. There was a sound below the dirt like rats chewing wood, and then some of the dirt fell inward. There was a cracking and creaking sound and a hand shot up through the soil and the moon glistened off the tips of the broken fingernails.

Quill jumped to his feet, stumbled and fell on top of the grave. He grasped the wriggling hand. "Darlin' Jenny," he said, and then he let go and began to dig with his hands like a dog for a bone. Finally, he saw a sandy shape through a cracked slat of coffin. He grabbed at the slat, and pulled. The board groaned and broke. He tossed it aside, grabbed another piece and ripped. The body in the coffin worked from the inside, pushing, clawing, and then the shape sat up. Her dark hair dripped sand. Her eyes blinked, shedding dirt from the lids; the eyes were bright and green. The white burial gown she had worn was rotten and ripped. Her flesh went from sheet white to a healthy pink. She looked at Quill and smiled and spread her arms. When she did, most of the rotting gown fell off.

Quill lifted her near-nude body from the coffin as easily and as gently as a kitten. He started down the hill, carrying her. As he went down, she whispered something in his ear. It was hoarse, but he understood it: "I love you."

"And I love you," he said. "Without you...I..."

She pressed her hand to his lips.

And then her foot fell off.

Quill stopped. He looked at it on the ground, and then looked at her. She had an expression like a worm had just crawled up her ass, and considering where she had been, maybe it had.

And then her leg fell off.

Followed by an arm.

"Dang it," she said.

"No," Quill said.

"Sorry," she said.

Jenny's head rocked to one side, made a noise like a dog biting into a chicken bone, then her head rocked in the other direction--

--and fell off.

The rest of the body crumbled in his arms. He dropped to his knees as dirt and desiccated bone and hanks of flesh and hair fell to the ground. The wind picked up the fragments and moved them about and carried some of it away.

Quill yelled to the darkness. "You cheated me, you son-of-a-bitch. You cheated me. You lying bastard!"

Drawing his gun, Quill charged back up the hill, firing at shadows amidst the tombstones. But they weren't the shadows he wanted. He kicked at a stone, shoved over another, then fell into his wife's grave and rose up on his knees. He picked up a piece of her gown, clenched it in his fist, let out with a hoarse bellow that could be heard all the way down to the Sundown Saloon.

No one came to investigate.

Copyright © 2016 by Joe R. Lansdale

Copyright © 2016 by John L. Lansdale


Hell's Bounty

- charlesdee


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