An excerpt from my story “The Woeful Tale of Dalton McCoy”, appearing in full in The Zombist
Several months ago, one of the anthologies that I was thrilled about being a part of came out. It was crammed full with a ton of stories from many great authors writing in the zombie genre. Given that these stories all are set in the old west, it was even better, as far as I was concerned. I mean, what’s better than cowboys and indians? Undead cowboys and indians, of course!
Well, in an effort to help remind folks that this book is out there, and that you should really check it out if you’re a fan of either the western or zombie genre, I would like to post an excerpt from my story here. Now to get the whole story, you have to click on one of the many pictures of this particular book I have posted on this website. It’s picture appears on my bio page as well as the “about me” page. I will post the cover down below again as well, with the link to Amazon embedded in it.
Now I’m not just going to ask you to read this book. No, I’m going to ask you to read it and then post a review of it over on Amazon so that other folks can see what you think of it. You see, I love posting reviews, and I did so with this book on this very blog way back when it first came out. Alas, it is considered bad form for a contributor to post reviews of anthologies that include their work in them on review sites, so I’m steering clear of doing that on places like Amazon and Goodreads. So again, I would love it if you would post a review and give this fine book the attention it deserves. It is a wonderfully massive tome and I daresay worth more than every penny it will cost you to purchase a copy.
So without further ado, here is an excerpt of my story, The Woeful Tale of Dalton McCoy, which appears on the pages of The Zombist, from The Library of the Living Dead Press.
Shorty wiped the grit off his face and looked back for what seemed like the hundredth time. He was sure the posse was headed west but was still nervous. The paunchy man with the graying beard squinted through the midday sun and scanned the horizon. Still nothing—no dust trails or glimmers reflecting off a rifle in the distance. Relaxing slightly, he gently pulled back on the reigns until his horse slowed to a trot. After a moment, Dalton’s appaloosa followed suit.
“I told you no one was comin’ for us,” Dalton said, a sneer in his voice.
Shorty only grunted in acknowledgement. They hadn’t spoken much since fleeing that bloodbath back in Wichita.
It should have been simple. Henry had stationed Dalton and Shorty outside to watch the doors along with Brett and Everett Dean. The brothers liked bickering more than a couple weasels trapped in a burlap bag but were good with their guns. They were supposed to make sure no one went into the bank after Henry and the others went inside. Things were quiet on the street and it looked like it would be an easy job.
So when the first shot rang out and Brett’s head exploded into a mist of syrupy blood and chunks of brain, needless to say they were caught off guard. Everett recovered first. Even before Brett slipped boneless off his horse, his brother was off and running, screaming like a banshee and firing at anything that moved.
Shorty took a bit longer to figure out what the hell was going on as he sat in the saddle and stared dumbly at Brett’s motionless corpse. In a few seconds it became clear: the fine folks of Wichita hadn’t been surprised by the early morning robbery and were ready to go to war with Henry Jordan’s gang. Though they weren’t well known in these parts, someone must have recognized the outlaws as they rode into town. Shorty could see rifles being raised and people rushing behind whatever barricades they could find. Even so, it took the whine of a bullet whizzing past his head to snap him out of his daze.
Shorty spotted a man on the bank’s rooftop and fired off a shot at him with his rifle. As he did, he saw Henry stumbling out of the bank dragging Frank Greely behind him. They were bloody and limping and let loose with a barrage of bullets back into the bank. At the same time, Dalton was trading shots with a couple of men inside a barbershop across the street.
A few seconds later Shorty heard a piercing shriek and turned in time to see Everett flying off the back of his horse. There was a ragged, bloody hole in his chest. Henry had somehow managed to climb on the back of his palomino but Frank wasn’t so lucky. He had taken a shot in the leg and was crawling towards a water trough for cover.
Henry didn’t look back as he tore off down the street, even as the last three members of the gang came rushing out of the bank, guns blazing. Cursing, Shorty realized it was every man for himself.
Taking one last shot at the man on the roof, he heard the bark of Dalton’s peacemaker nearby. Thankfully, he was just a few feet away, still keeping the men in the barbershop preoccupied. From the look of things, Dalton seemed inclined to follow Everett’s lead and go down in a blaze of glory…at least until he heard Shorty scream his name.
Shorty made a quick gesture when he caught Dalton’s eye. After a split second hesitation, he nodded in response. Shorty fired off a couple more shots into the air to clear out the gawkers but Dalton did a bit more. Things got a bit hazy after that but Shorty later recalled seeing the gunman pick off at least two bystanders who may or may not been armed.
Dalton McCoy was one mean son of a bitch and fast as blazes with that Army Colt of his. When Henry suggested they rob a few banks up in Kansas, Dalton had been all for it…especially if it meant going to Dodge City or Abilene. Every one else voted against that particular idea, since those towns were the residence of two of the most famous lawmen in the west: Wyatt Earp and Bill Hickok. So when Shorty quietly suggested they target Wichita instead, everyone else agreed. Dalton just shrugged, knowing he would get the chance to take out some lawmen where ever they went.
Unfortunately, it appeared that Wichita had grown weary of rowdy cattlemen and even rowdier bank robbers causing problems and were prepared for Henry and his men when they rode into town.
It confounded Shorty that Henry had taken off to the west, in the direction of Dodge. That hadn’t been a part of the plan and now Henry, along with whoever else in the gang was still alive, were not only going to have to outrun a Wichita posse but quite possibly Wyatt Earp himself. It was certain he would be telegraphed about what had just happened to the east of him. Good ol’ Henry was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
The original plan had been to head northeast after Wichita, towards Emporia, and that was just what Shorty and Dalton were doing. The gang was supposed to meet up with Slim Jordan and Blake Fulton there and then head north. It made sense before things went to hell and it still made sense now.
As the two men tore out of town, Dalton agreed that they should head to Emporia, meet up with the other boys, and lay low…at least until things cooled down a bit. But as they got further away from Wichita, Dalton’s brow grew furrowed as he gave more consideration to their situation.
“Shorty, I don’t like Kansas all that much,” he announced abruptly, his voice shattering the silent desolation of the prairie surrounding them. “And Kansas don’t like me all that much neither.”
Shorty looked over at his new-found partner, whose stubbly jaw was clenched over a wad of tobacco. The gunman had a face only a mother could love. A few women had found the scar running from his forehead to chin darkly mysterious but most just found it plain repugnant. The thick white line came courtesy of a Comanche blade that nearly blinded him. The iris that was cut turned grey and looked eerie next to its brown counterpart. Looking Dalton McCoy in the eyes for very long was a decidedly uncomfortable experience. Shorty guessed the ugly scar was at least partially to blame for the man’s generally nasty disposition.
Sucking on his lower lip, Shorty took a deep breath. He had to be careful what he said. Back in Texas one of the younger members of Henry’s gang, a kid by the name of Billy Hughes, had claimed he was the fastest draw around and that nobody better mess with him. Well, no one paid much mind to his gum flapping…at least not until poor Billy made the mistake of calling Dalton’s drab old Colt a ‘broken down piece of shit’ right to his face. Before Billy could blink Dalton had ripped one Billy’s guns free of its holster and proceeded to pistol whip the kid with it. When the other members of the gang finally pulled him off the boy, Billy was almost dead. They dumped him at some Doctor’s office in Ft. Worth. No one ever really knew if he survived that beating. And after that, no one ever said another cross word to Dalton. That was why Shorty knew he had to choose his words carefully.
“We can head to Missouri, but probably should stop in Emporia first. I suspect you’re right that no one is followin’ us, but that don’t mean word won’t spread about Wichita.”
“More reason to head straight to Missouri,” Dalton said with an absent nod. He leaned back in the saddle as he paused to consider his surroundings. “I ever tell ya that I was born there, Shorty?”
Shorty shook his head. He had not spent time getting to know Dalton and didn’t want to now, but knew it might be wise to show an interest. “Nope, can’t say I knew that, Dalton.” Shifting in his saddle, he twisted around to give the other man his full attention. “You fight in the war?”
It was a tricky question but Shorty knew he had to ask. A man from Missouri claiming he disliked Kansas was nothing new but didn’t make clear which side he had fought on during the War Between the States. Missouri was a border state and had officially fought for the North but many of its people had sympathies for the South. A decade later plenty of Missourians still held a grudge against anyone Union, and especially anyone from Kansas.
Dalton’s eyes narrowed as he glared at Shorty, who felt a chill run down his spine.
“I ain’t no damn bluecoat, if that’s what you’re askin’,” the gunman said, his hand sliding towards his holster.
Shorty swallowed hard and raised his hands. He carried no sidearm, just the rifle. He was too fat and slow to give anyone reason to draw on him and wasn’t about to give Dalton reason to now.
“Easy, there, Dalton. I ain’t no Billy Yank either. I was just curious.”
Dalton looked at Shorty as if he were seeing him for the first time. The slouchy man wore a stumpy old hat and clothes that had seen better days. His scraggly beard and sun baked features made him look perpetually tired but his eyes were alert, taking in everything in around him. There was nothing about the man that hinted at loyalties to the North or South so Dalton suspected he would have to take him at his word.
He spat in the dust again as his eyes broke away from Shorty. He settled into his saddle and seemed to make up his mind.
Shorty relaxed, letting out a breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding. He nodded quickly. “It’s another day’s ride from here, but I know a little town by the name of Cassoday off the trail where we can spend the night.”
When Dalton didn’t mount any further protests, Shorty continued.
“Slim and Blake will meet us in Emporia. When we hook up with them we can figure out where to go next. We could head to Missouri or Nebraska…”
Shorty tried to keep from sounding like he was kissing Dalton’s ass but it was hard not to feel relief that the temperamental man hadn’t shot him down just for the hell of it. It wasn’t as if he weren’t capable of such malice.
Dalton shook his head slowly as he thought on what Shorty had suggested, ignoring the weasily tone in the other man’s voice. “Don’t want to head north of Emporia. I ain’t going anywhere near Lawrence. People might remember my face…” As he spoke, his eyes grew hazy, as if lost in some memory.
As they continued riding, Shorty thought on what Dalton had said. Lawrence wasn’t far north of Emporia and all he knew about the town was something about some massacre happening there during the war. Curiosity was eating at him but asking further questions might make Dalton’s temper flare again. So he kept his mouth shut as they continued up the trail.
The hot sun pounded down as the two men inched closer to Cassoday. Shorty told Dalton he’d never been there but suspected it was no different than any other piss-hole town out west. There would be a saloon and a couple rooms where they could catch some shut eye before heading to Emporia in the morning. That was all that mattered.
Shorty picked up the pace a little later, sensing they were getting close. Mostly what they had seen over the past few hours were herds of cattle heading towards the trains that would take them to slaughterhouses back east. They did spot a few buffalo, though the shaggy beasts were becoming a pretty rare sight.
Minutes later they saw the outline of a few low slung buildings off in the distance. It was a tiny speck of civilization on the flat, barren grassland and drew the eye despite how drab it looked.
As they rode closer, they passed a wooden sign welcoming them to Cassoday. The placard looked like it had seen better days, as did the town. The two men slowed to a trot and gawked as they passed a gleaming white church and the town cemetery sitting next to it.
“Shorty? Is it just me or does that bone yard seem a might big for a town this size?”
Shorty glanced over at the wooden crosses and stone markers spread out across a large grassy plot. It was only a few feet off the road leading into town and took up a huge chunk of land. He shrugged at Dalton’s question and instead focused on the town itself, quickly losing interest in the cemetery.
Dalton kept looking at the graveyard, his eyes gravitating towards an open hole at the back and the pine box sitting next to it. His eyes narrowed as he spied a man standing waist deep in the hole, his hand resting on the handle of what had to be a shovel. Behind him stood an old nag hooked up to a flatbed wagon. As Dalton studied the gravedigger, the man appeared to be staring off into space. As the two outlaws continued riding into town, the strange man’s blank expression never changed.
When Dalton finally turned his attention towards the town, he sniggered quietly.
“Hell, Shorty, this ain’t no town, it’s a flyspeck.”
Shorty nodded, agreeing with the blunt assessment. While there were a few structures spreading away from the main street, most of the buildings were directly ahead. There was a blacksmith’s shop with a small corral next to it, a general store, a doctor’s office, a saloon, and not much else. They saw a schoolhouse in the distance and a few other buildings off the road, but that was about it. They hadn’t seen any ranches or farmhouses on the ride in, but it was certain they were spread out for miles around the tiny burg.
Dalton’s eyes locked onto the saloon almost immediately and he was pointing his horse in its direction when he noticed the Marshal’s office directly across the street.
He snorted. “Well, isn’t that convenient. If anyone gives us any trouble in town, we can call on the local lawman to sort things out.”
When Shorty didn’t laugh at his joke, Dalton just grinned and clicked his tongue, urging his horse over to the murky water trough in front of the saloon.
If Dalton was nervous about there being a Marshal in town, Shorty couldn’t tell. Then again, it was highly unlikely anyone in Wichita would bother sending a telegraph about the failed bank robbery to such an insignificant place.
As they stopped in front of the saloon, Dalton took another look at the town. Cassoday was smack in the middle of the some of the most fertile soil in the country but the town itself looked like it had been plucked straight out of some wind lashed desert. Dry rot had taken a hold of most of the buildings and it seemed no one much cared. Signs were worn down, hard to read, and when the wind blew it made the doors and walls creak and moan as if they were in agony.
But that wasn’t the strangest thing about the place. It was the fact that no one was out on the street. Not a single soul.
Dalton was used to withered little burgs like this where farmers and ranchers spent their days out tending crops and cattle, but usually there were at least a few folks in town who would stare at the strangers riding in…but not in Cassoday.
He banished any further thoughts on the subject as they walked into the saloon. There were a few tables and a bar running along the back wall and a meager stash of bottles on some shelves behind it. A small stage that might fit two dancing girls was next to an upright piano that looked as worn down and washed up as the town. A set of stairs led to the second floor and more than likely rooms for rent.
There was a bald man behind the bar polishing a mug with a grimy cloth and a table filled with poker players, their faces buried behind their cards, but that was it. No one else was in the place and the silence, like out on the street, seemed downright odd.
No one raised an eye at the entrance of the two men, not even the bartender, who apparently was bound and determined to make sure the glass in his hand was spotless. Dalton made his way to the bar with Shorty following in his wake. When his eyes wandered over to the four men playing cards, not one gave him a look, even a nasty one telling him to mind his own business.
The sound of Dalton’s hand slamming down on top of the bar echoed throughout the room and made Shorty jump, but no one else appeared to notice.
“Bartender, give us two whiskeys.”
Shorty had not quite made it to the bar yet but got there just in time to see Dalton snapping his fingers in front of the bartender’s eyes.
“You deaf, boy? I said: give me a shot of whiskey!”
Shorty leaned his rifle against the bar and looked at the bartender, who hadn’t reacted to Dalton’s command yet. His hollow eyes were still focused on the mug he was cleaning as he slowly ran the rag over it one more time.
Dalton, never patient to begin with, gripped the edge of the bar, his jaw clenched tightly as he glared at the oblivious man in front of him.
“Are you trying to irritate me, barkeep?”
The low, growling words had no effect on the man polishing the glass. Dalton’s face turned red as he grew more enraged, his scar looking like a lightning bolt running down his face. Shorty looked down and saw that his partner’s hands were still on the bar top and not near his gun, which was something to be thankful for.
As quickly as his heavy frame would allow, Shorty rushed behind the bar. Grabbing a bottle off the shelf, he set it down, sliding it over to Dalton. Smiling nervously, he shrugged at the gunman. “I guess even the town retard needs a job, huh Dalton?”
Dalton’s eyes finally moved away from the bartender and studied the bottle of whiskey in front him. His expression changed slightly as he reached out and gave a quick tug on the stopper. The bottle went vertical and Dalton took a big swig. Slamming it down on the bar, he let out a hiss of satisfaction and ran the back of his hand across his lips. Sliding the bottle towards Shorty, he let out a sigh.
“I suspect you’re right about that.”
Breathing easier, Shorty relaxed, knowing trouble had been averted. Taking a small drink himself, he took another look at the strange bartender before moving to the other side of the bar. He was still cleaning that mug.
Dalton turned and leaned back against the bar, giving the place the once over.
“Well, this place is as dead as some of those buffalo carcasses we saw rotting out on the trail, Shorty.”
Moving forward, he pushed himself away from the bar and grabbed the whiskey bottle out of Shorty’s hands, taking another long pull from it. Bringing it with him, he moved towards the poker players. The men still appeared oblivious to his existence, even as he set the bottle down in an empty spot at the table and pulled up a chair.
“You boys have room for a fifth?”
Without waiting for a response, he plopped down in his chair, arms crossed as he waited. Leaning in after a moment, still oblivious to the fact that no one at the table was doing or saying anything, Dalton patted his pants pocket.
“I tell ya what, boys. I’ve been on the road for the past few weeks and I got a wad of cash burnin’ a hole in my pocket. Are any of you fine gentlemen up to the task of relieving me of such an earthly burden?”
Shorty stood watching from the bar, his eyes going wide and his jaw slowly inching south as the man he rode into town with talked while the stiff, ragdoll-like figures surrounding him ignored him.
Dalton’s good cheer began to evaporate as he realized the same thing as Shorty. For a moment, he sat quietly, his head moving back and forth as he tried to get a reaction from any of the men sitting around him. As he glanced at the man directly across from him, his eyes went wide with recognition.
“Jeb? Jeb Tyson? Is that you?”
He leaned forward to get a better look at the man he thought was his old friend. Despite Dalton’s excited words, the man in the tan cowboy hat kept his eyes glued to his cards, ignoring him.
“Jeb? I know you recognize me. It’s Dalton McCoy. We rode together for a spell in Colorado back in ’72. Don’t you remember?”
Dalton’s voice was friendly, neighborly even as he leaned forward, trying to catch the eye of the other man. Even as he reached across the table and gave a little tug on Jeb’s cards, his smile didn’t fade.
As the cards sunk towards the table, Jeb’s eyes never shifted from the spot they had been trained on and his expression never changed. It was almost as if he was staring right through the man opposite him.
With a sudden burst of movement, Dalton kicked his chair back and was on his feet, his weapon filling his hand. Shorty blinked, not quite sure what he had seen. Dalton’s movements had been a blur.
Inching backwards, Dalton made his way back to the bar. His eyes were wide and showed an emotion Shorty had never seen on his face before. He thought it might be fear.
“What the hell is going on around here?”
Shorty shrugged slowly, his face a study in confusion.
“I don’t rightly know, Dalton, but it’s probably best you put away that shootin’ iron before someone gets hurt.”
Despite using his most appeasing tone of voice, it quickly became clear that Dalton didn’t take kindly to the request. As the gunslinger turned towards him, Shorty took a hesitant step back.
“It’s okay, Dalton, I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I just think we probably don’t want to be stirring things up, so it might be best not point your gun at any of these fine people.”
“That is an excellent suggestion.”
Shorty and Dalton turned at the sound of the strange voice coming from the entrance of the saloon. Standing in the doorway was a man who certainly was unique, and not just because he was only person they had heard speak since getting to Cassoday.
Dressed in a dark tailored suit and ascot tie, he wore a bowler that rested at jaunty angle on his head. His skin tone hinted at a mixed heritage, but it was hard to tell what mix. His face was handsome, with bright blue eyes that stood out dramatically against a dark complexion. A bright gold pocket watch chain peeked out from beneath his suit jacket, prominently displayed against the backdrop of a red satin vest. A thin, well-manicured mustache completed the image of a man distinctly out of place on the frontier.
As he began walking towards them, it was clear he wasn’t just some city slicker lost in the wilderness. A glint of metal on his lapel told Dalton and Shorty all they needed to know about the man with the strange accent.
Dalton stared at the dandy, sizing him up before carefully sliding his weapon back into its holster. The man wore a badge but no weapon. Still, it was probably best to play nice for the time being. So he gave him his best shit eating grin.
“I’m not looking for any trouble, Marshal,” Dalton said good-naturedly.
The lawman slowly crossed the room towards a table near the piano. Gesturing, he motioned at the two men.
“Please join me for a drink, gentlemen.”
The words rolled off the man’s tongue with a lilt hinting that he might be European, though neither Shorty nor Dalton had much of a clue, given neither had been east of Ohio their entire lives.
The two outlaws looked at one another. Shorty looked puzzled and a bit uncomfortable but Dalton only shrugged, as if to say ‘what have we got to lose?’
They approached the table and took two seats opposite the Marshal. Up close, he looked even more out of place, his exotic features standing out in dramatic contrast to the dull, drab surroundings. There was a scent rising up from him, a smell that spoke of dark and mysterious spices from places far removed from the backwater prairie town.
“Well messieurs, as you have deduced, I am the Marshal here in Cassoday, and I wanted to welcome you to my town.”
Before either Dalton or Shorty could say anything in response, the Marshal was snapping his fingers at the bartender.
“Clyde! A shot of whiskey for our two guests, if you please.”
The outlaws turned and were stunned to see the bartender reaching for a couple of shot glasses beneath the bar. Turning, he grabbed another bottle of rot gut off the shelf.
“I prefer wine myself, but it is difficult to get in these parts.”
Dalton turned back towards the Marshal and squinted at him skeptically. Shorty, entranced by the marionette like movements of Clyde, kept his eyes glued to the bartender as he began pouring their shots.
Dalton put his hands on the table and tried to clear all the strange events of the past hour out of his mind. “Well, Marshal, could you explain to me how some…Frenchman becomes a lawman in Kansas? I’d like to hear how the hell that happened.”
The Marshal’s grin widened, displaying a mouth full of perfect white teeth. He laughed delicately and dipped his hand inside his jacket. Dalton tensed momentarily but realized he was just taking a small snuff box out from some hidden pocket. He slid off the lid and inhaled. Dalton could detect a hint of cinnamon in the air, which lingered even after the Marshal slipped the box back into his pocket.
“I am not from France, Mister…?”
Dalton shifted slightly in his chair. Shorty turned towards the table when he heard the question, his eyes darting back and forth between the Marshal and Dalton. For an instant, the saloon was quiet again, except for the creak of floorboards underneath Clyde’s feet as he made his way towards them with their drinks.
Giving the lawman one last assessing glance, Dalton finally spoke. “McCoy, Dalton McCoy. And this here is my partner, Shorty Shelton. We came up from Texas on a cattle drive and are lookin’ to find gainful employment in these parts.”
Nodding politely at the response, the Marshal waited until Dalton was done before introducing himself.
“My name is Jacques Louiviere.”
The lawman raised his hand to prevent Dalton’s interruption.
“As I have said, I am not from France. My father was Creole and my mother Cajun. I was born in New Orleans. I am an American like you, Mr. McCoy.”
“New Orleans, huh? That might not be ol’ Par-ree, but it’s still a might far from the prairie, Jock,” Dalton said as he lifted his shot glass to toast the Marshal, downing the whiskey in one gulp.
Jacques didn’t seem to mind Dalton’s slaughtering of his name and continued smiling. He also didn’t appear to be fazed by the gunman’s grey eye or scar that had unhinged so many others.
“Be that as it may, I am the Marshal of this town and it is my sworn duty to uphold the law in these parts.”
The words were softly spoken, with no hint of menace behind them, but it seemed clear what they meant.
Shorty, who was once again preoccupied with watching Clyde drift back to the bar, snapped out of his reverie at the sound of the Marshal’s words.
Dalton glared at Jacques, his eyes narrowing slightly, though his hands remained where the lawman could see them.
The Marshal leaned forward, propping his elbows on the table and threading his fingers together, as if he were about to pray. Instead, he rested his chin on his thumbs and looked at the two men, making sure he had their complete attention.
“And I think, Messieurs McCoy and Shelton, that you did indeed come up from Texas, but perhaps you made a stop in Wichita this morning, yes?”
Dalton suddenly felt the ponderous beating of his heart and panic filled him. This lawman—this effete, prissy man with no weapon and barely a town to protect was calling him out. It didn’t matter how he had found out about Wichita, just that he had. And there was a look in the man’s eyes that said he had the two outlaws dead to rights.
His eyes went to the windows at the front of the building. He squinted to see if there was any movement outside: a rifle sliding through an open window or someone climbing on a roof to get a better shot. But nothing had changed.
When his eyes moved back to the Marshal, Dalton’s mouth split into another grin. “Well now, Marshal, it looks like you know a bit more about us than we thought. Seems you have us at a disadvantage,” Dalton said with his voice low and filled with menace as his hand slipped below the table.
Now if you’d like to read the rest of this story, and 28 others that appear in this 450 plus page monster, click on the picture of the cover below and pick up your copy. And don’t forget to drop a review after your done. The publisher and all the authors would be much obliged.