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Shoot Out in Sure Would

By Ken McCoy All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Fantasy

From The Hellrazor Chronicles

The man sat at the rickety table in the saloon for over an hour playing Solitaire. He ignored the comely advances of the hovering women of the night and the out-of-tune ragtime being beaten out of the upright piano from below on the main floor.

The hootenanny from the carousers — card sharps and contractors, miners and malcontents, hustlers and whores — heralded the nightly celebration released by liquid courage poured out for the survivors of “‘nother day soilside.” The ruckus billowed out and up to the rafters. It was a choir of the damned singing psalms to the congregation of liars in need of a revival for their false faith.

The man at the table flipping cards wasn’t interested. Never was. Never would be. His faith was strong and his conviction impenetrable.

He was up two games of three, but now he was struggling with what he knew must be a buried Seven of Diamonds, when the shadow of one of Big Lou’s men dimmed his vision. The bean-stuffed, whisky-soaked pot belly of the hireling pushed his grubby white canvas shirt out between the brass buttons of his blue waist coat; a red, bent-brimmed sombrero rested high upon the man’s head.

A festering ooze leached from underneath the shirt, creating anew a bright red spot ringed in darker brown. A bull’s eye in the belly of a wound that refused to close.

The man sat in shadows, his back to a window that looked down from the second level of the Serpent Mound Saloon onto the dusty main thoroughfare of Headstone. Headstone was a malignant, violent little town on the western outskirts of Matamoros. It was a horrid way-station in the middle of a bleak and dying landscape that attracted the worst sort of business across the Texas-Mexico brder, along with the men who wouldn’t hesitate in its undertaking. Men like Big Lou Ludovico and the man in the shadows, Hollis Severn.

Severn was a tall, wide-shouldered man. His black-brimmed hat sat atop a narrow head that held a face like a stone-carved falcon. Ashen gray skin with thick hair to match, he had a look of murderous intent even when he slept. And Hollis Severn never slept.

His right eye gleamed forth from a dark brow, his left covered in a black patch. A wide mouth revealed bluish-brown lips, a slit in a visage of dread.

From his vantage point, Ludovico’s man-–Gutshot Gonzalez-–couldn’t make out the features of the man at cards, positioned as he was, so the gaslight above exposed only his arms. But Gutshot knew not to take any chances. Hollis Severn, the most wanted man north and south of the border, was as dangerous as they came.

Gutshot’s greasy fingers white-knuckled the sawed-off scattergun in his grip.

“You got the money, senõr?,” the filthy mouth rolled a smoldering cigar as he spoke.

A hand disappeared from the table into the shadows.
Gutshot flinched against the shaved stock of his scattergun. His wound gurgled a soft, malodorous burp.

The hand reappeared, slowly this time, the top of a dingy drawstring bag clearly marked “Property of Pinkerton’s”. Gutshot Gonzalez recognized this sack, used to ferry cash by Pinkerton detectives.

The hired gunman eased a bit and took the bag in his hand, never letting go of his grip of his gun.

“The map,” Severn growled.

“The map,” a voice bright and clear rose above the din in the Mound, but Severn had to peer forward to see him. He caught sight of him only when two bare-chested men of Araby, both sporting silken pants and turbans of purple, hoisted Ludovcio up on a palanquin chair.

“Big Lou” earned his nickname not on stature, but on style. He was wrapped in a crimson velvet riding jacket complete with tails, tailor-made to fit his tiny frame. A black, velour leather top hat rested on one of the chair’s ornate finials, a red carnation tucked in its band.

The man’s wide head bore tightly curled blonde locks, preened to precise fashion. Pink-trimmed taffeta plumed out across his chest and at his cuffs. His deep blue eyes were cold and unblinking.

With a slight flexure of the wirst, the Arabys moved closer to the table and, as they approached, Gutshot leveled his gun at Severn.

“The map,” Big Lou repeated, producing a tattered scrap of material that looked like tanned hide. Taking up half of the remnant on the left side were three columns of runes inked in dark brown.

Severn recognized the cuneiforms as that of the Mawl Tribe.
Big Lou waved a flourish to the Arabys, who promptly set the little chair on the edge of the table. It tilted slightly and Ludovico caught himself with a start. Blue eyes blazed back and forth to his minions, before the dwarf regained his composure, clearing his throat.

“Eunuchs,” he shrugged towards Severn then tossed the ragged swath to Severn.

The bronzed men at either side of Ludovico registered no emotion at their boss’ contempt, but each rested a hand to a jeweled hilt of a scimitar sheathed at his belt.

The map piece landed upright on top of Severn’s cards.
Big Lou produced a gold-framed mother-of-pearl snuff box and busied himself with several loud snorts of the powder inside.

The leather duster creaked as Severn reached inside and pulled out a leathery fragment of similar design. He placed the two together. The entire left side of the completed piece now bore three completed columns of runes.

“The Mawl Strike,” Ludovico smiled. “One only has to follow the incantation scripted thereupon to reveal the map on the opposite side. Only then will the map be complete. Only then will you find the ingress… which is also an egress.”

“Don’t let that concern you,” Severn smirked.

“Oh, but it doesn’t,” Big Lou returned the smile, “It just so happens I have in my employ a person who can decipher that chicken scratch.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Severn replied.

“Ah, but it will be, you see, Mr. Severn. Now that I know you do, indeed, possess the other half of that cartographic relic, I will take the piece back in its entirety.”

Gutshot Gonzalez flipped the bag of money over his head, where another Gaucho stood waiting. The man snatched the bag from the air with a chuckle.

“The map, please,” Big Lou held out his hand and the Eunuchs drew their scimitars with steely chimes, flashing deadly blades bearing murderous edges.

Suddenly the entire saloon was enveloped in stifled silence. Somewhere in the distance, a lonesome rolling trill-–part wolf howl, part whistling warble-–rose and dropped then faded as an echo in the desolate night.
“I’ll cut you for it,” Severn whispered.

Big Lou’s brows furrowed in confusion; Severn lifted the deck of cards before him and set the stack squarely in front of the dwarf. The outlaw lifted half the deck and with his right hand drew the card from the top of the cut. He flipped it, holding the card in two fingers.

It was a Two of Clubs.
Big Lou’s face broke to a giggling grin.
“OK,” he beamed. “Let’s play!”

The Gaucho at the railing of the upper floor undid the drawstring on the money sack.

“Draw,” Severn’s voice etched in resolute contempt.
“Please,” Ludovico nodded to the outlaw, the dwarf unable to reach the card stack and unwilling to move forward to do so, for fear of falling victim to Severn.

Still holding out his card, Severn flipped the next card with this left hand.
The Ace of Spades.
Big Lou mocked a frown.
“That was bloodless,” he sighed.
The Gaucho, unable to contain curiosity, opened the Pinkerton’s bag — screamed.

A rattlesnake struck from inside the money bag, driving its fangs firmly into the hired gun’s neck.

The man and snake flipped over the railing and a great cloud of crisp dollar bills billowed out over the saloon floor; immediately a maddened chaos erupted at the rain of fortune fluttering down upon the patrons of the Serpent Mound.

With lightening celerity, Severn’s wrists snapped; the cards disappeared from his hands, slicing clean through the neck of each Eunuch. Gouts of crimson gore shot in unison, splattering the face of Gutshot Gonzalez in a torrent of blood, as shining scimitars fell embedded in the table top.
Gutshot pulled his gun up, reaching for his eyes burning with blood; Severn’s legs flipped the table back.

Big Lou crashed into Gutshot and the two tumbled to the blood-soaked floor with a splash.

The dwarf somersaulted out of his chair, his polished boots struggling on the gory floor. The diminutive man fell face-first, his taffeta shirt stained red now to match is coat.

Pivoting back in his chair, Hollis Severn pitched himself backwards out the window, landing saddle-side atop his black horse tethered on the street.
Grabbing the reins, he drove his steed on at full gallop down the road and away from Headstone and to his southern rendezvous with Chief Cho Cho.

In the distance on a precipice glaring down at the town below, a silhouette of a lone stranger watched the outlaw’s escape.

A lonesome thrilling rose against the nightmare landscape, like a desperate cry of anguish signaling a hunger pang dying to be sated.


The Arcanum Coopers were a sorry lot: generally regarded as being languid, lazy, and loutish. Even those who had the occasion at making their acquaintance only in passing found such encounters wholly disagreeable, if not fraught with considerable ill-fortune.

Their reputation for being loathsome was exceeded only by their lack of skill at barrel making.

“Casks couldn’t hold cotton,” was an oft-applied adage attesting to the constructions the Cooper boys attempted to peddle in town. Indeed what meager monies they managed to draw were primarily manifest from government contracts. The Coopers provided some of the worst containers for stowing and transporting materiel and foodstuffs to the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War, when the need for quantity outweighed quality and the immediacy of the conflict barred much oversight for barrels and bushel baskets.

Mockery for the Coopers was, as often as not, directly applied to the four men equally, as these were not men who were feared.

Indeed, the Coopers were also well-established as cowards in the county. Though mean-spirited and quick to rile, the Coopers were given to all manner of shadowy, if ill-conceived, attempts at retribution when slighted; however, on the whole, with the possible exception of the middle child, neighbors considered them despicable but harmless.

Oren Cooper-–Paw Paw  — was the patriarch of the Cooper clan. A rotund little man in clothes that looked like he’d been born wearing them. He had a bare pate that his hoary mustache sought to compensate for in spades.

The eldest Cooper boy, Bartholomew, was a big, brutish bully of a man who fancied himself a gunfighter, despite his constant flinching at the flash of a muzzle or report of a pistol. His flat face and wide blood-shot eyes gave him the look of perpetual stupefaction. An appearance he fortified with constant inebriation. He was a drunkard and, “…as lazy as the Lord makes ‘em!” his father often cackled. Bart took to wearing an old duster he claimed he took off a dead rival after a duel, which was in essence the truth, since the duster once belonged to a man named Albert who prior to his death had the distinction of being the town drunk. His last liquor-imbibed indulgence had been orchestrated by Bart for the sole purpose of obtaining said-coat.

The middle son was Abe. Not Abraham. Just ‘Abe.’ Paw Cooper was insistent that he not share some “fancified” name like that upstart President. Abe was a monster of a man, mean-muscled and malicious. He was everything Paw Cooper wanted in a son, including the steady income to leech from. He approached handsome with his dark deep-set eyes, a square chin, and jet-black coif that he kept slathered in pomade. If there was a Cooper Clan member anyone was truly concerned with, it was Abe. He was cold-blooded and vicious, often earning money as a bare-knuckle brawler. It was a profession he excelled at: his hands were enormous and powerful, poorly suited for any other task than that of raw pugilism.

Jasper was the youngest and frailest of the clan; a long, tall gangly milksop with bowl-cut scarlet bangs that looked like someone dropped a pumpkin on his head. Jasper’s one redeeming quality was that he often found himself repulsed by his family’s dealings with enough distaste to vocalize his opposition. This trait, along with his bookish insecurity, often found him at the receiving end of severe beatings from the rest of his kin.

Due to their well-earned regard as hateful, no-account na’er-do-wells and because of the contempt easily laid upon their character, it was a hard row to hoe for the Coopers, whose thirst for fortune was only surpassed by their innate ineptitude and indolence.

In the post-war years, as their impoverished circumstances worsened with the absence of government contracts and a snow-balling reputation as being worthless in all endeavors to a man, Paw Cooper decided the family needed to pull up stakes and move on to greener pastures. So, in the Summer of ’85 the Cooper Clan abandoned their Ohio homestead, and headed west.

Maw Cooper didn’t partake in the Cooper Exodus. Oren maintained that a large part of his decision to leave Arcanum was the sudden estrangement with his wife, Beulah. She ran off East, Oren lamented — ran back to her family. Paw Cooper declared he had nothing left to live for in this world, without his beloved. Most folks, however, assumed Poor Beulah May Cooper had finally succumbed to her betrothed’s violent attentions and Cooper needed to flee before he was found to be a liar and a murderer.
The Cooper Clan found themselves in Matamoros in 1888, but their reputation had apparently arrived several years before them. The Coopers found the residents of Matamoros not nearly as accommodating as their former Buck-eyed neighbors. So much so in fact that by 1895, the Coopers were run out of town on a rail.

Life in any border town was hard if not downright dangerous. If you didn’t have a wage-worthy skill, you were either busting rock for the Morningstar Mining Consortium or you were dead. And for some, being dead was harder still.

Abe and Bart spent their first years in Matamoros doing just that-–working the silver mines for meager company script, while Paw Cooper saw to it that Jasper spent his time studying two subjects: coopering and distillery. Paw Paw had a plan. He was going to make a living, if not a fortune, in the fine art of spirit distillation. He was fairly confident he could make decent mash, but having liquor was no good if you couldn’t store it or transport it.
Their troubled time in Matamoros was cut short when it was discovered that Bart had been smuggling silver from a Morningstar mine to back his brother Abe’s bare-knuckle brawling. Fight-fixing was a heinous crime in the Outskirts; stealing company profits was unforgivable.

The remaining clan was kicked out of the city, when searches for the two bothers proved fruitless. But the foursome soon found refuge in the Badland Breaks in a rutting little backwater called Sure Would.

The battered and bird-dropping drenched sign arching over the road at the north end of town read “SUREWOULD…rather be anywheres else,” etched in unevenly spaced white lettering, now weathered to dull-gray.

The sign captured a universal sentiment for the denizens of this dead-end settlement on the outskirts of civilization. It was here that the Coopers finally nested.

The Cooper family set up shop in a ramshackle building on the eastside of Sure Would, on the edge of The Breaks. Seven years toiling in Matamoros — and raw survival instincts — saw the boys perfect their barrel making ability.

Jasper spent his days working as an apprentice to the town barber, an Englishman named Jack-Knife; his evenings were spent studying the details of operating and maintaining a still and how to build a better barrel. His free time was spent applying his knowledge at both arts. The boy was always buried in books.

For his part, Paw Cooper controlled the family coffers, while working to keep Bart from soaking up the whisky that was their life’s blood, keeping Abe out of jail, keeping Jasper’s nose in his books, and keeping all of them working to create casks good enough to haul moonshine across the badlands to the border.

Then one evening foraging for pine for lumber on his property-–which by his definition was anywhere he could walk unopposed and unseen-–Oren Cooper stumbled onto something in the scrub that would change the Cooper luck forever. Paw, much to his surprise and contrary to popular opinion on the subject of his ability to distinguish such a find from a particular orifice of his person, discovered a hole in the ground.
The next day, it became home to the Cooper Distillery.

They found the ghostly shaft more than accommodating for their task. Not only was it out and away from the prying eyes of town, its location was deep in Badland territory. Its water supply was plentiful.

The cavern was, in fact, a mineshaft. It hid their efforts well. But it was deeper down into the mine that its real worth was revealed. One of the mine’s ancillary tunnels led to a seam of a most precious commodity: Gold.
Paw Cooper was not a bright man, but he knew when to keep his mouth shut. Having a source of gold would make him rich only if he could protect it.

They mined the metal only in the day time, when a watch could be reliably kept.

On occasion, they’d sparingly off load small amounts of their labors. Often conjuring a simple fabrication to explain their happy happenstance: they’d recovered the fragments in the aftermath of some duel on the road north of town, a dead relative’s artifacts had hid the nuggets for years before discovery, a pick-pocket had lost them in a card game, a wager on a brawl had paid off. Anything would work, so long as the amounts were small and the lies not too elaborate. The last thing Paw Cooper wanted to do was stake the claim officially. Going public would mean he’d have to pay to protect it. That would cut the profits considerably in the outlaw outskirts.

It was high noon as Bart rode out to meet his family working in the mine one day after just such an exchange.

Bart fell into the dust at the mouth of the cavern, not waiting to tie up his horse, but wildly grabbing the saddle bag off the back of the animal.
Pulling himself up and shouting, he disappeared into the mine.

“I sold two bags!” Bart yelled and continued to do so until he found his father and brothers in the off-shoot of the main tunnel.

Oren Cooper dropped the pick in his hands to his feet, staring back at his eldest.

“Looky,” Bart held out the saddle bag. “It’s prit’ near stuffed to full with cash. Not script, but real, honest cash!”
“You sold two bags?”
“In broad daylight? And you rode back here?”
“Here’s where we stash the money, Paw.”
“Here’s where we don’t want no one to know about, fool!”

Cooper hoisted the pick-axe in his hands, ready to dispatch his son. Abe’s mighty palm stopped the swing dead, inches from the center of Bart’s wide and stupid eyes.

“This is why we should have Jack-Knife stake the claim,” Jasper said.
“Shut yer spit hole,” Paw said. “This is a family business. We don’t need no partners.”

“Listen,” Abe’s voice hushed.

A tinny ring could be heard echoing in the shaft moving towards them.
Paw lifted a lantern off the wall and swung it around. The entire cavern glowed with a dusty haze, casting shafts of light against the dark figure in the opening.

“I came to stake my claim,” the shadow said.
“Look mister,” Paw’s voice quivered, “This here’s my land. My claim. This here mine is . . . mine.”

“Name’s Severn,” the shadow moved closer. “Land don’t belong to nobody. But I’m going to pay you what’s more than fair. Enough to buy your way outta here. Outta The Badlands. With enough real cash to grow fatter on.”
Severn stepped within arm’s reach of the elder Cooper. He towered over the portly old man. In each hand he held two Pinkerton bags.

“I know who you are. I seen your picture,” Bart Cooper barely managed.
“Don’t do me justice,” dismissed the outlaw.

“Pinkerton coach got waylaid a few weeks back,” Bart chattered. “They say you done that. Say you gunned-down four marshals and their dep’dees. And a big bull dog, too. Killed ‘em all.”

“Never killed no dog,” Severn graveled barely above a whisper.
Bart fumbled with a flask in his shaking hands.

“Take the money, old man,” Severn finally said, “Take it and run. Or stay. Work the seam for me.”

“We outta consider that, Paw,” Jasper spoke.
“Spit hole!” Cooper snapped. “We don’t discuss family business in front of strangers. Especially outlaw strangers.”

The old man’s eyes darted to his older sons; they began to move.

“Big bounty on your head, Mr. Severn. I partner with you and there’s bound to be trouble. More than I care to handle and that’s for sure.
“I take your money and I get caught by the Marshals, or worse, the federales. Your money’s as good as outhouse script. I work for you and there’d be no retirement innit for me.”

Abe had managed to circle his way around to the back of Severn now and was already pulling a six-shooter from his waist band.

Bart was at the outlaw’s side, next to a shotgun propped in the corner against a brace beam in the shaft.

“Now,” Paw continued, “Iffin’ I turn your hide over to Pinkerton’s, you’d fetch me a pretty good price, I reckon. ‘course, we would’a nabbed you penniless.”

The old man grinned at this plan taking shape in his head. He’d keep the cash and collect the reward for turning over the most wanted man in The Badland Breaks. He’d be a hero. He’d be swimming in money. No woman would dare refuse him; no man would dare cross him.

“This is a bad plan, Paw,” Jasper whined.
“Shut yer hole, pumpkinhead,” Cooper barked.
“Lissen to yer yungun,” Severn intoned coldly. “Boy’s got brains.”
“Whatta we do if he escapes the Marshals?”
“Reward is ‘dead or alive’ as I recall,” Abe Cooper laughed, and Abe laid his pistol against Severn’s neck under his ear.

“Ha!” Paw chortled, “Who’s the smart one, now, outlaw?”
Bart dropped his flask and grabbed up the shotgun, drawing back the hammer and shaking it at Severn.

“Easy, boy,” Paw held out a hand to his eldest fearing for his own life. The blast of the scattergun in Bart’s hands would easily find him, too.
Severn raised his arms in surrender.

“Go ahead,” Severn’s voice had a cold quality, like river rocks in a spring thaw.

“Pull. The. Trigger.”

Abe adjusted his grip on the revolver at the man’s head.
“I don’t think you got the guts.”
“Don’t test me, mister,” Paw grimaced.

The old man reached into the man’s leather duster, pulling back the halves, revealing two pistols at his sides.

“Them… them are ….” Bart couldn’t finish his words. It was the glint of gold dangling from the outlaw’s inner coat that stole the eldest Cooper boy’s voice. A dazzling array of shields, stars, and badges hung from leather strings like fringe inside Severn’s coat.

One badge in particular bore an ominous portent-–the blackened badge that was pinned to Severn’s shirt over his left breast. It was a gold star tarnished with the patina of years, pinned exactly where it should be above the pocket of any U.S. Treasury agent.

Paw Cooper eyed the interior the outlaw’s coat carefully looking for a trap. He stared the outlaw in the eyes, examined the black eye pack over the left.

“How’d you lose yer eye?”
“Plucked it out m’self,” Severn hissed.
Paw laughed in disbelief.

“You gotta give somethin’, ta get somethin’,” the outlaw offered.

“You know,” Severn leaned in, whispered to Oren Cooper, “… yer in the Mawl.”

Paw Cooper’s dry tongue rolled over suddenly parched lips.
“Ain’t no place darker. Ain’t no place for the living. This is Soilsider land.”
Paw Cooper considered the man for a moment, then shrugged dismissively and backed away.

“Don’t forget the gold, Paw,” Bart offered.
“I ain’t fergeddin’ ‘em,” Cooper spat, stepping back to the outlaw and reaching into the coat again. He withdrew two leather pouches stuffed with fistfuls of gold nuggets.

“The Devouring-time’s a-comin’, old man. The Mawl is always hungry,” Severn said.

Oren Cooper gripped the bags tightly in his hand and let his fist fly with all the power his fat frame could muster. The punch landed squarely on Hollis Severn’s mouth.

The outlaw’s world fell black and silent as the grave.

Hollis Severn awoke to the scratchy fibers of thick hemp rope around his neck. He cleared his head and found himself sitting on top of his horse; the labored breath of Jasper Cooper in his ears.

“Do the job right,” Severn growled through the constriction on his throat. “All of it.”

Jasper retreated, the man’s address-–his very voice-–made the youngest Cooper’s blood run cold.

Jasper presently returned to his work, double-checking the tightness of the noose. He was ready to climb off the horse when a grunt from Severn stopped him.

“Now all we need is a deck of cards,” the outlaw wheezed, nodding to the breast pocket in his duster.

Jasper’s eyes found it. The cards were half sticking out of the short pocket.
“Dead man’s deck,” the outlaw spit. “Ain’t gonna do me no good in there.”
Almost involuntarily, Jasper grabbed the deck and stuffed it into his pants pocket.

Abe and Bart busied themselves with tying rocks to the ankles of the outlaw. They weren’t going to take any chances.

Anxiety thwarting Jasper’s dexterity; it took three throws to get the other end of the rope to clear the heavy pine branch overhead. Jasper fell from the horse to land on the seat of his pants in the needles below.

The other Coopers shared a laugh at the scene-–the youngest with a rump full of spines. Then, they turned to consider the man on horseback.
“I wish I had me one of them silver nitrate machines.”
“You mean a camera, Paw?” Jasper asked.

“I know what things is called,” the old man cried, wounded. “Dang it, boy, you got me just about lathered.”

The elder Cooper gave his youngest a stern look then mellowed. He turned back to Severn.

“Like to capture this moment. Keep it for prosperity’s sake.”
“I think you mean ‘posterity,’ Paw,” Jasper corrected.

“Dang it, boy,” Paw retorted, “I know how to talk,” then added, “Taught you, didn’t I?”
“Yes, Paw,” Jasper conceded.

“OK then,” Paw Cooper raised his voice against the setting sun and the oily bruised sheen stretching across the horizon.

“Hollis Severn, most infamous outlaw in The Badlands and most wanted man according to U.S. Oh-thorities, I do sentence you to twist in the wind until you are dead,” the old man smiled.

With a wide opened hand he slapped the rear of Severn’s horse.
The animal remained stationary.
Two more whacks produced barely a whinny.
“Dang it!” Paw shouted.

Severn grinned then spurred the animal’s sides. The horse bolted and Hollis Severn fell, his weighted body pulling the creaking rope taunt.

The snapping branches of the low scrub could be heard breaking like tinder as Severn’s horse drove itself off to the east.

As the animal cleared the tree line, dust rose behind it.
“Yeah, Paw.”
“Where’s them saddle bags of cash?”
The eldest Cooper boy started to speak then turned his eyes to the horse disappearing on the horizon.
“Dang it,” Paw Cooper stamped his feet. “Git to the horses!”


That night in Sure Would promised to be one of the most glorious revelries the town had ever seen. The Cooper Boys were the toast of the town. They suffered the reprimand of Sheriff Holloway for dragging the corpse of the outlaw through town several times, and they lost their bid to sell the body to the traveling circus, but the Coopers were in their glory. It was all talk of salad days and celebrity.

The Darke Brothers’ Pandemonium would have paid handsomely to acquire such a curiosity for their freak show, but Holloway was having none of it. Severn was a symbol and Holloway was going to make sure it was seen. By everyone.

The Sheriff ordered the outlaw’s body to hang from the arch at the north entrance. All who passed through would know not to mess in the business of Sure Would. All would know no one escaped justice, even out in a drunk little sticks like Sure Would.

The Coopers would have to wait until the Pinkerton detectives could come to town to collect the $1,000 bounty, but riders were dispatched to deliver the news to all points. The wait wouldn’t be long.

A line of credit was quickly established for the Coopers in the interim by all the merchants in town, especially Jimmy “Suds” Slesinger, the owner of The Hell Hole, the local tavern.

Each Cooper had a substantial cut of Severn’s illicit gains in his pockets as well, having captured the man’s horse in the badlands.

And they had a pile of gold to move. Once the word was spread about the goings on in town, Paw Cooper knew, it would have the reverse effect that the Sheriff was hoping for. Folks would come from miles around to gawk at Severn’s body. Folks who would help him exchange gold for cash no questions asked.

All but one Cooper found themselves in The Hell Hole that night. While Paw, Bart, and Abe were regaling anyone who would listen to their grand fortune at having Hollis Severn stop at their barn to water his horse, and how they managed to get the jump on him, Jasper wandered over to the Pandemonium’s circus tents on the west end of town.

He found himself in the tent of Lady Lofshitsky. Lofshitsky called herself “The Eyes of Tethys”. She was a fortune teller and card reader, a practitioner of the arcane arts. Normally, her show amounted to parlor tricks and sleight-of-hand with the occasional foray into a smoke-and-mirror distractions to pull in rubes off the street.

Jasper sat opposite her, at a round table with a glass “crystal” ball set upon a copper pedestal resembling a snake swallowing its own tail.

“You want to know your fortune?” the woman’s dark eyes were warm and inviting. She was young and unsoiled, as attractive as she was mysterious.
A tattoo of an eye graced the brown skin of her forehead. Black tassels cascaded down around her face, framing her head in shadowy tresses. Her full, voluptuous lips were a dull sensuous red.

“Read your palm?”
“I want you to read my cards.”
Jasper plopped a deck of playing cards on the table.
“These cards.”

At the north side of town, a corpse dangled from a rope facing Boot Hill, its wrought iron fence catching the whistling winds.

A faint, forlorn trilling drifted across the plain falling on dead ears.

“I tried, Merle, I did,” Paw gulped at a mug of beer, sitting across from a tall, thin man in red ring leader’s garb, his shiny silk top hat crooked on his head at a salacious angle.

The two brothers were both tall and lanky. Slickers from the East. Brown curls rolled out from under their hats in thick waves. They had narrow faces and wicked eyes and seemed perpetually pleased with themselves.

“Holloway would have none of it,” Cooper continued. “Offered him a cut, even.”
“That … artifact would bring them in from all over,” said Earle Darke, Merle’s twin and the co-proprietor of the Darke Brothers’ Pandemonium Circus.

“He’s just giving it away,” Merle shook his head.
“Got that right. Something about the ‘greater good of Sure Would’ and deterrence,” Paw sniped. “Buzzards’n blowfly will have him whittled to nothing in a week.”

“At least he didn’t want to plant him,” Earle said. “Word gets out and this town will be on the map, which will oil the works for all of us.”

“I still see a way fer us to make some profit?” Paw Cooper leaned in close to the twins.

“Do tell,” the twins said in unison.
“Well, iffin’ we could lay hands on one of them . . . silver nitrate contraptions — ”
“You mean a ‘camera’?” Earle asked.
Cooper’s irritation with the correction was evident, but quickly passed.
“Yes. A camera,” the old man continued, “We could charge folks to get their picture taken with the outlaw.”

The Darke brothers’ synchronized smile widened.
“Why, I do believe we have a fellow in our employ with just such a contraption, Mr. Cooper,” said Merle Darke. “I do, indeed.”

The men laughed and toasted each others fortunes with great mirth, unaware or unconcerned with the storm rolling in.

“Play the cards,” Jasper snapped.
Lady Lofshitsky was visibly shaken. Her last three draws of the strange deck in front of her had been of most ill purport.

“Perhaps I should shuffle ….”
“Draw!” Jasper shouted. “Draw them, as they are.”
The woman flipped a card.

The King of Spades.

Instantly all the tomes in her tent flipped open from some unseen force and pages rifled of their own accord.

Jasper withdrew a tome bound in black-skin from a satchel at his side and laid it on the table.

It, too, flipped open to a page of its own volition.
Jasper began to read. As the alien words formed, the glass ball on the table cracked, then shattered.
Lady Lofshitsky screamed.

A breeze swept across the horizon and the body hanging from the sign stirred.

A green glow, faint at first, began to creep out from underneath the black eye patch covering Hollis Severn’s dead left eye. Quickly it grew in intensity casting sickly green tendrils of light and smoke.

The dead man’s body shook so violently that it bounced up and down on its tether.

“You’ve already begun,” the tailored tone of the man interrupted the ceremony in the tent. His oily Englishman’s accent tinged everything he said with ominous intent.

He was of no great height or build, though the top hat gave him the appearance of a man of greater stature and his carriage gave him a presence that made most men pause.

A gray fringe of well kempt hair jutted out from underneath his tall hat. Dressed in black tails, he had the look of a mortician, though his blood-stained apron gave him the look of a boisterous butcher. In Sure Would his profession was that of a barber. His nocturnal escapades, however, saw him practicing a blend of skills in all these trades. Indeed, in London folks had regarded him in infamy as something of a surgeon.

Jack-Knife the Barber, stood behind the whimpering Lady Lofshitsky. Her tattoo took on a life of its own, darting here and there as she flipped cards to fuel the unspeakable spell being unleashed from the red-headed Jasper’s grimoire.

“You’re late,” Jasper dully greeted his compatriot.
“Am I?” Jack-Knife was smug, holding a gold pocket watch in his hand.

Jasper ignored him, as he did the sobs of the fortune teller, who was pleading with him to stop the ceremony and let her go.

Jack-Knife wore leather gloves, upon the backs of which were securely stitched with piano wire four folded straight razors. Each razor was at least eight inches long and their handles an array of Mother-of-Pearl, ivory, hardwood, or bone.

“I was detained for services with the mortician. The man’s hand can’t hold a needle steady under the best of circumstances. Following the Mawl prescriptions for a deathwalker was more than he could bear, I’m afraid. Had to stitch the mouth shut myself.”

Jasper continued with this ritual, oblivious to the Englishman.
The barber stood behind the woman and waited.

The strap holding the patch in place over Hollis Severn’s left eye snapped and the cover fell away. Sitting firmly in the socket of the dead skull rested a polished golden coin.

The bonds holding Hollis Severn’s ankles and hands flashed away in green flames.

Lady Lofshitsky flipped a series of cards as Jasper Cooper’s voice raised to a howl.

Jack-Knife’s wrists flinched in unison and eight deadly razors swung out to glint in the pale green light now pulsating in the fortune teller’s tent.
The woman flipped the final card, though she knew what is was before turning it. It was an easy guess. Simple process by elimination.

The Ace of Spades.

Jack-Knife’s arms slashed in a criss-cross.
The woman’s head fell to the table on the stump of her neck, tears still streaming from her closed eyes.
The grimoire was complete.

A slow left hand lifted, grasped the rope above the outlaw’s head and pulled his entire body up as if to grant him some reprieve from the tension on his throat. Relieving the strain to allow lungs access to air, again.

A smile split his face once again, pulling away stitches applied in hopeless effort to keep the dead man’s mouth from uttering any blasphemies that might cheat death. A billowing cloud of green smoke erupted from the orifice and dead lips pursed. A shrill whistle escaped and within seconds the thundering hooves of a horse from Hell galloped over the rise by Boot Hill and hammered its way towards the man under the arch.

Severn let go of his tether and dropped. The rope snapped.
The outlaw landed upright in the saddle of the nightmare beast beneath him. Its eyes and nostrils issuing the same sickly green emissions as that of the rider.

Abe Cooper had wasted no time. The town, he figured, was his for the taking. His wealth was neither unexpected nor unplanned for. He always knew the day would come. He always knew he’d have his day of reckoning.
At the end of the street, in the back alley behind the mercantile shops, he’d cornered Summer Soulstice, a beautiful auburn-haired girl of maybe twenty years who was currently a member of Madame Ducharme’s contingent of concubines operating out of the back rooms of The Hell Hole. Abe aimed to make her his Madame and start a brothel of his own. Summer would be his first conquest.

“Things is dif’rent now, Summer,” Abe told the girl pinned against the wooden wall of the general store. “You gonna work for me. We got the money and the power, now. Nobody gonna say dif’rent, ya hear? Yer round heels are gonna roll for me, now.”

Abe moved into her, his unshaven face inches from hers, when the noose dropped over his neck.

Abe was spun about to find a dread horseman beckoning at the end of the alleyway, the rider’s hand twisted around the frayed end of the rope around his throat.

Trying with all his might to no avail, Abe Cooper couldn’t resist the constricting tug of the tether.

Slowly the hell-spawn rider drew the man towards him, Cooper’s boots digging reluctant furrows in the dirt.

When the man arrived to the side of the hell-horse, the outlaw rider lifted him by his noose, so that Abe’s eyes could stare into the dead blue and fiery green of Severn’s.

“My gold?” Severn’s mouth pulled tight against the stitches.
Abe tried to answer, but could only muster enough strength to shake his head.

“Useless,” the dead man said.

Abe’s massive right hook caught the dead outlaw square in the jaw. The dead man’s head jerked away then came back with a smile.

Severn flipped the rope and sent Abe sailing. His body cart-wheeled through the air then suddenly came to a halt, the rope pulling stiff against the saddle horn of Severn’s steed.

The cracking of his neck drew a scream from Summer Soulstice, who managed to find the strength to flee, when Abe’s limp body bounced on the ground.

The festivities in The Hell Hole were in full swing. The Darke Brothers had provided a floor show that included a chance for folks to throw bottles at dwarfs chained to a cougar that was in turn trapped in a cage. Everyone was facing the front stage when the large plate-glass window of the saloon shattered at the arrival of Hollis Severn.

The ink-black horse’s unnatural neigh froze the Hell Hole’s patrons’ feet fast; its four razor sharp hooves landed squarely on the front table, which collapsed under the weight of the beast, trapping five card players under it. The gamblers all wailed in unified agony as Severn reared the horse up towards the rafters of the saloon.

The screams of one of trapped card sharps was quickly silenced as the hell-horse trotted off the table, across the man’s chest and face, into the saloon.

The floor parted to give the outlaw room. Folks were taking flight up the stairs or crowding the stage to escape.

One lady of the evening, blind with terror, strode too closely to the cougar in its cage and was immediately pulled through the bars to her bloody demise.

No one but the cougar and the girl seemed to notice.

Severn’s horse, smoking a gruesome green, stamped and pawed at the wooden floor, cracking timbers. It’s neighing was part cackle, part choking gurgle. The horse snapped its teeth and threw its head side to side, anxious to get a taste of flesh.

Severn’s bright green eye scanned the hall.
“Where the hell is Oren Cooper?”

Instantly the sobbing protestations of Paw Paw Cooper could be heard, as the crowd offered the man up from his hiding place from behind the bar.
Severn considered the fat old man for a moment.

“Where’s my gold, shit-stain?” the outlaw growled.
Cooper fumbled under his jacket and produced a fat leather pouch stuffed with nuggets and tossed the bag to Severn.
The outlaw caught the bag in one dead hand.
“There’s more!” Copper cried. “More! You can have it all. It’s all yours! You can stake the claim!”
“Shut yer fool mouth, Oren Cooper,” Severn spit.

The old man Cooper buried his head in his hands, watching the undead outlaw through split fingers.

The devil rider shifted and his horse moved to bolt, but a quick jerk of the reins pulled the animal still.

Cooper gasped. His hands pulled away from his face and for a moment he considered the pistol at his side, not wanting to look away from the demon before him; not wanting to stare him in the face.

“He ain’t got no guns, Paw!” Bart shouted from the upper balcony, his faded union suit unbuttoned to his waist. The prostitute clawing at his side buried her face in Bart’s shoulder. The eldest Cooper pushed her aside, revealing a gunbelt that before had been hidden in his hand behind the girl.
“Gunslinger,” Severn smiled up at Bart.

Bart Cooper took the holster in his left hand and positioned his right over the stock.

Bart’s eyebrows spread wide and his eyes grew saucer-sized.
A bead of sweat dripped down the inside of his nose.

Severn’s milky dead eye turned outward, while the green orb burning on the left side of his skull let go of a smoky tendril that escaped towards the ceiling.

Bart’s mouth went as dry as the dust and he swallowed hard. The pain in his throat felt like he’d eaten a mouthful of glass.

Severn’s dead eye narrowed.

Bart stared one last time at the empty holsters at the outlaw’s sides.
The eldest Cooper always wanted to be a gunfighter; now his chance had come.

The six-shooter was in his hand and extending out before even he was aware of it.

A shot rang out.

The bullet ripped a hole in Severn’s chest-–dead square in the middle.
The outlaw chuckled hoarsely as a trail of verdant smoke rose up to his nose.

The undead gunman inhaled the wafting spire through his nostrils and his hands moved from the bottom edge of his holster, past the cryptic runes and sigils worked into the leather in blood and bone.

It was mandated in Sure Would that any criminal taken into custody have his personal effects stored in a property box while he was incarcerated. The local law enforcement would keep the property box until the prisoner was released or, if given a death sentence, the box would be emptied into his grave, provided no next-of-kin could claim it.

This was done no matter the charge.

Sheriff Ernest Holloway couldn’t help but indulge his son’s desires, however. Since his mother’s passing, he often spoiled the boy, who was a good-hearted and caring person in all regards. And despite what he knew about Hollis Severn, he had to admit he was himself more than a little anxious to get his hands on those infamous Colt .45s, just once.

The young Elmer Holloway flipped open the property box and stared for a moment. The weapons were dark gray and dusty. Elaborate scrimshaw work on the bone pistol grips revealed inverted stars and minute symbols that meant nothing to the boy, except fascination.

He lifted one of the hand-cannons from the red box and felt the heft in his hand.

“Careful with that, Son,” Holloway said, then added “Devil’s right hand.”
The boy nodded his head slowly.

As if the lawman’s utterance had produced some sorcery, both guns vanished in a whiff of green smoke. Elmer Holloway nearly toppled over.

There was a brief pause as the eyes of the two met.
“Whad’ya do?” Sheriff Holloway asked his son in disbelief.
“I dint do nuthin’, Pa.”
“Ah, hell,” the sheriff gasped.

Severn’s hands stopped just over the tops of his empty holsters. A swirl of smoke flashed through the empty spaces and the leather holes were immediately filled with the dark metal of his pistols.

Bart Cooper saw them take form and his high pitched shriek of terror filled the air as the dark stain grew wide across the front of his union suit.
Severn laughed.

The Cooper boy dropped his sidearm and darted, wailing for his very life.
“Looks like your champion turned tail,” Severn said to Oren Cooper. “Just you and me, now.”

Oren Cooper’s jaw dropped.
“Draw,” Severn said.

The old man sobbed and began to beg, but in a flurry of movement surprising even to him, went for his gun instead.

Severn put two into the man’s head, one from each gun, before Oren Cooper’s hand hit the hilt of his weapon.

As the saloon stood frozen, Severn pulled his horse around and drove the creature through the shattered front window.

On the back streets of Sure Would, Bart Cooper found his youngest brother, Jasper, in the company of the town barber.

“Jasper!” Bart screamed, “We gotta git outta here and fast. Severn is alive and he’s a-gunnin’ for us!”

Jasper turned to his companion with a pleased look.
Bart’s usually stupid expression was made even more so by the wild look of terror in those wide-set eyes and the odorous stench in his undergarment.
“Ain’t you hearin’ me, boy? We gotta run!”

“When the three of you half-wits are my dead automatons working the seam for me, I will remember to give you the hardest of the manual labors,” Jasper said flatly.

Bart winced in confusion.
“A little off the top, please, Jack.”

At Jasper’s word, the barber spread his razor-talons out and cut with fluid precision, removing the top of Bart Cooper’s head clean above the eyebrows.

A great gout shot straight up into the night sky, splattering on the hard packed street like someone disgorging a slop bucket.

“Hollis Severn,” the voice was thick and raspy. “Why do you waste time in the White Man’s Wastes?”

Severn’s horse stuttered to a stop and the outlaw reined the animal in with great effort.

Before the outlaw now, in the middle of the rutted path into town, stood a monstrosity of unspeakable horror. Upon a carriage of gears suspended by a claw of three spider-like legs sat a massively thewed thing that was once a man. Chief Cho Cho, the leader of the Mawl Nation. His head dress was a mixture of feathers and metal shards. Around his neck were the hands, ears, and teeth of his many enemies that dared to challenge him.

The bloody sinews of his once muscular form were now wrapped in cables, gears, and pulleys. At his back, a copper cistern fired by an unnatural fire fueled the metallic hoses that ran to his carriage.

In his right hand was a polished stone tomahawk. His left hand was missing, replaced with a spiked, iron cylinder sprouting dozens of arrows in the chief’s steam bow. Running the length of the bow under the arm was a harpoon. A rig of pulleys held a rope attached to the harpoon’s metal tip.

“Retribution,” Severn snarled. “Besides,” the outlaw held up a bag heavy with gold, “Washington won’t fall easy. We’ve got some bank to accumulate.”

The mechanical monster seemed to accept this answer.

A piercing trilling shook the two outlaws where they stood-–a howling cry through a penny-whistle trilling back and forth.

A boom from a heavy rifle blasted from the far end of the street and the powerful bullet tore into the Mawl-machine’s shoulder.

“Enjun Joe…,” a tall Navajo in a boulder hummed with sardonic finality.

A single white feather adorned the hat from inside the band. He was several heads taller than his companion, who was wrapped in a dark patterned pancho and clutching a long barreled lever-action repeater. The two were hunkered down at the end of the lane drawing a bead on the outlaws at the other end.

“Mawl chief Cho Cho,” the Navajo recited the name with disgust.
“K’thaqwa,” the man whispered back. “Mawl demon-priest.”
“Very dangerous,” Grim Jim the Navajo, intoned.

As if to punctuate the notion, a volley of steam-powered arrows peppered the barrels and crates the two men were hiding behind.

A smoking cheroot hung from the lips of the man in the pancho, but the cloudy puffs streaming from the cigar’s end did not make the man’s eyes squint; nor was it the dozen arrows that came within inches of perforating his hide that distracted his aim. It was his companion’s commentary.

“You squawk like an old woman,” the gunman droned.
“You dress like one,” Grim Jim replied.
“Maybe,” the man replied, squeezing off two more rounds from his rifle, “But it’s your blanket.”
“Just giving it back, white man,” the Navajo grunted. “Besides, it’s got a hole in it.”

Two gaping holes smoldered in Severn’s shoulder and chest and the outlaw groaned. Even in death he could feel pain.

“Shit,” Severn’s teeth clenched in agony. “It’s The Revenant. The Hellrazor.”
Cho Cho smeared the blood from his bleeding shoulder across his face and under his jeweled, clockwork left eye in a blood woad of arcane import, then bellowed out a war cry that sundered the entire town of Sure Would.

“Ni’ka Mawla. Mawla Ta’wa!” the cry was a call, and it was swiftly answered.
The ground all around the outlaws cracked and blistered and from beneath the splintered earth arose the gaunt and ghastly frames of Mawl tribesman, zombie cannibals slathering for the warmth only hot blood could bring.
The zombie braves moved swiftly, searching for the living to feed upon.

The Mawl Indians had long ago disappeared under the persecution of not only the white invaders to the land, but also by their rival Indian nations, who regarded the cannibals as an abomination. They all but vanished from sight, until the Mawl Strike. Chief Cho Cho — K’thaqwa the Devourer —  lived in exile in the caves along the border, clawing his way to a passage that carried more than just earthen minerals or precious stones. He’d found a doorway to the dead. He simply needed someone greedy enough to pass through it, to pay the fee for the return, to open it up.

“Only a white man would pay that price, be so greedy,” Cho Cho told Severn, when asked why the chief didn’t make the trip himself.

Unfortunately, the sheriff and his deputies arrived just in time to become living sacrifices to that end.

Grim Jim moved down the alley way towards Enjun Joe Cho Cho.
The Revenant moved around the back of the buildings along the street, looking to find a new vantage point to confront his prey.

Enjun Joe saw the Navajo moving towards him and spun on his clawed pedestal to face him. A billow of steam erupted from his left arm and the great harpoon launched itself towards Grim Jim.

With only fractions of inches to separate him from the sharp spear, Grim Jim bent back and the harpoon shot past him. The harpoon pierced the back wall of a building pulling a line of rope behind it.

The great chief roared in frustration and the pulleys whined into action, drawing the harpoon back.

The spear shattered wooden timbers as it returned, ripping out the wall of the building. Three small wooden casks were impaled on the shaft. Black powder cascaded from the splintered cracks in each keg leaving a dark trail in the dust leading back to the steam-fueled horror.

Grim Jim withdrew two tomahawks from his waist belt. They were hand-worked in sigils of his people and big enough for any one man to wield as chopping axe. In the Navajo’s capable hands, the axes were as hatchets and he swung them with surprising ease.

Lopping his way through two zombie Mawl, he faced the steam-chief.
“Meh,” the chief grimaced. “You betray your birthright, scout. You are a tool of the White Man.”

“I am not the one riding the steam kettle,” Grim Jim replied and tore at the monstrous beast with his axes. The two enemies exchanged blows and parried with mighty cuts that would fell any ordinary man, the stone heads of their weapons sent sparks into the air.

A furious rain of hacks brought Grim Jim to his knees, and Enjun Joe leveled his steam bow to the Navajo’s face.

The Navajo let one of his tomahawks fly and the blade severed the hose powering the terrifying steam-bow. The weapon was rendered useless, but for the spiked tips at its end.

Cho Cho drove the arm at Grim Jim, who dodged the stabbing blow so that its scythes barely grazed his chest. Rents of red seeped out of the Navajo’s flesh.

The two fought on.

The Revenant moved down a corridor between the storehouses on the main street. In the distance he could see the zombies feeding on a fallen lawman, their essence of life flooding back towards Severn. The street was littered with the half-eaten former residents of Sure Would.

The Revenant drew his pistols — each forged in Damascene steel, whorled surfaces worked with runic glyphs — and dispatched the two Mawl zombies.
Before he could step into the street, his path was barred by a man in a black top hat.

“Close shave,” the Englishman said.
The man’s hands were gloved in razors, flipped to length and ready to rip.
Another zombie moved on the man, seemingly unaware of the presence of the revenant gunman.

Jack-Knife was thrown into melee with the zombie, much to his confused dismay. The Mawl desired living flesh.

The Revenant moved past the fight before him, leaving the barbarous barber to plead his case as an ally and fight off the undead creature.
“Hellslinger,” The Revenant called to Severn.

Three more zombies moved on Holloway and his men, their guns mostly useless in putting down the undead things.

Severn laughed as The Revenant turned and fired his pistol into the advancing Mawl. They dropped one after another, dead again.
The Hellslinger’s laughing continued.

The fallen Mawl rose again. This time they were joined with their freshly gnawed victims.

The Revenant’s guns resounded, each bullet administering death anew to the shambling forms thirsting for blood.

The guns fell silent and the undead ceased their march.
The Revenant turned to face the outlaw.
“Hellslinger. I’m putting you back.”

Severn wheeled his horse around and considered the man at the end of the wheel-worked lane.

“How you gonna do that, Hellrazor?” Severn sighed wryly. “Ain’t you tired of runnin’ errands for the Almighty, Longinus?”
“Pay’s pretty poor,” The Revenant puffed his cigar in agreement, “but the perks are priceless.”
Severn raised his eye brows.
“That may be, witch-hunter. But you’re empty.”
Longinus the Revenant, the man called Hellrazor, pulled the cheroot from his lips.

The green orb narrowed to a slit in Severn’s skull.

Cool breath resurrected embers to fiery red life, and Longinus’ fingers flicked. The burning cigar streaked like a shooting star from The Revenant’s hand, blazing in a high arc down the dirt road.

“Go to Hell,” Hellrazor hissed.

The burning stub rolled over the shoulder of Grim Jack, who turned to watch its path; instantly the Navajo somersaulted backwards, hoping to beat the burning butt before it found purchase under the Mawl Chief, where the busted powder kegs were forming black mounds.

One spark begat another, then another. Then the blast grew to a voluminous tower of dark smoke and brilliant fire like a geyser from Hell.

Enjun Joe Cho Cho was enveloped in the column of flame, the roar all but suffocating his cry of pain. Flesh separated from machine and the air was filled with the shrapnel of cogs and gears and cables and splinters of metal.

A shockwave roiled forward, expanding as it did, pushing along the debris of the Mawl chief at its edge. Buildings buckled and bent in the blast.

With ghastly thuds in flesh, several pin-wheeling sprockets sank into the Hellslinger Severn. His neck. His chest. His arm.

With a howl of utter despair, the outlaw drew a corrupt sidearm and a shot exploded from its barrel as the cloud of heat and smoke lifted the undead man and his hell-horse off the street. The horse and rider were tossed like rag dolls.

Longinus spun, but Severn’s shot found its home in his chest. The man fell to the earth and the cloud of death passed over him like a gust from a volcano.

Within seconds, the explosion passed, leaving only burning frames of Sure Would to mark its existence.

Outside the city limits the bloody pulp of the Mawl chief splattered to the rocky ground.

The earth opened and a cadre of zombie Mawl emerged, grabbing up the remains of their leader and hoisting him on their shoulders. They marched off as fast as they could go, carrying the broken Cho Cho away from town.
Horse and man tumbled to a stop. The horse stood and galloped away in a furious rage, dragging the Hellslinger helplessly behind, his foot trapped in a stirrup.

Grim Jim found his companion lying on his side. The Navajo rolled Longinus over carefully.
“Two kinds of man in The Badlands,” Grim Jim said.
“The quick …,” The Revenant snarled.
“And the undead,” Grim Jim replied.
The Revenant raised his hand to his chest and dislodged the bullet from the badge on his shirt.
The two regained their feet. Folks were already busy attempting to salvage what was left of their town’s burning remains near the blast.
The two strangers made their way towards the north end of town.
The Revenant stopped, something catching his eye.
A man in a tall black top hat was cleaning the ichors from razors on his gloved hands. He stopped, tipped his hat to the gunman, then straightened his tailed-jacket and disappeared in the opposite direction.
For a moment, the Revenant considered following the barber, but he had more pressing matters on hand. He withdrew one of his side-arms, a Hellrazor revolver, and began loading scrimshaw worked bullets into the cylinder.
“I understand that, Sheriff, but I want to be sure my family has a proper burial,” a red-headed young man argued with the local constabulary, as the two strangers continued down the main drag of town.
“We’ve got to get outta here before the Marshals arrive,” The Revenant said, never breaking stride.
“This is a bad business,” Grim Jim flatly intoned. “The Hellslinger must have discovered the Mawl Strike. They opened the door. Using the town to load up on vessels. The Mawl have waited a long time to return.”
“I don’t give a damn about this town,” The Revenant turned from reloading his pistols, his eyes ablaze.
The gunman snapped a fully loaded cylinder into the Hellrazor revolver.
“I want justice.”
“You want vengeance,” whispered the Navajo.
“Tell me the difference.”
“Vengeance is the Lord’s.”
The Revenant holstered his pistol and lit a fresh cheroot.
“Then justice will have to do.”
“We need to find horses. Saddle up,” Grim Jim sighed. The two stood silently for a moment.
“You are called, ‘Longinus’?” the Navajo finally inquired.
“Long story,” The Revenant answered, then began walking, again.
Grim Jim followed a beat later, grumbling after his companion.
“We got time. Long walk to nowhere.”

Write a Review Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Ken McCoy
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