Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Excerpt: 'On the Nature of the Gods,' a steampunk weird western.

The following is a scene from what is clearly a very silly book indeed.

After a confab with the equine members of the party, the two men and Hope went back into the hotel. There were a few bleary-eyed patrons in the wide expanse of barroom, but the piano player was slumped across the keys in an alcohol-induced comatose condition. The bartender was nowhere to be seen and Hope wondered if he was asleep on the floor behind the bar. Either that or out in the privy abusing himself, she thought. Gripping the handrail tightly as they made their way up the narrow stairs, she longed for sleep, the last refuge of the truly unhappy.

Her room was first on the right, and she pointedly slammed the door upon entry.

She flung her clothes off, not caring where they landed, and slumped into her lumpy bed, a straw tick of about two and half inches thick, very itchy as all the ones out here were stuffed with bad hay and pinon nuts.

While there was still the distant rumble of talk from below, for the most part silence reigned, and she was just so grateful, no matter how bad the bed. It lasted all of thirty seconds.

A drumming came from the ceiling above. A few seconds later, it came again. After all they had been through! Her first wonder was if someone was trying to get her attention, perhaps in some kind of emergency. Maybe they had fallen and couldn’t get up or something like that.

There was another drumming, a thudding of something hard, and resonant, but of course the floor was just planks. She knew the sounding board of a piano was spruce, right? It made sense.

She knew she would never sleep with all that ruckus going on.

Grinding her teeth, for they had been days passing the Unpainted Desert, a raw, untamed wilderness of gypsum and silica sand, and that damned racket came again. It was all white, hence the name.

“Oh, God, am I tired,” she said aloud in sheer resentment.

Hopefully the idiot could take a hint.

She made a similar observation, only louder this time.

Was it a reporter? Or was it some pimply-faced wannabe pulp fiction author, pounding away at his tripe-writer? Poor fellow! She had some empathy for all of the losers in the galaxy, but she had been averaging three and half hours of sleep per night for about the last ten days or so. The thought that a genetically-modified hammerhead diamondback rattler would sneak under the blankets and then try to crawl up into her puss-puss had kept her tossing and turning all night.

Hopefully, they were a little more scarce here in town, rinky-dink as it was. For some reason it just creeped her out.

Thuds, thuds, thuds…more thuds.

Hope reached under her pillow, and pulled out a 7.63 millimetre German-made Mauser pistol, a long and awkward thing, but deadly enough at close range, and shouted up at the ceiling. She had a spare clip or two under there as well. It was the Turkish export version, given to her as a gift by a love-crazed firearms aficionado. She’d had it anodized a pretty royal blue at a little shop in Greenwich Village. The guy lived at home with his mother and after a while the thing clearly wasn’t going anywhere…

“Let a lady get some sleep down here,” she called in the most commanding voice that a shy, half-naked young mere slip of a woman lying in a bed could generate.

Like the pitter-patter of mules getting at ‘er on a hot tin roof, the danged pounding and stomping came again, with the soft moonlight through the windows illuminating her high cheekbones and wide, sensitive mouth. But her eyes were hard and her lips set tight and firm, like concrete.

Hope emptied the magazine, spraying it back and forth, up and down, carefully peppering the ceiling surface above her with little round black holes. Quickly changing clips, she completed the cross-wise sweep. A cloud of pale smoke hung in the air, her ears rang with the concussion, and a thin haze of dust fell slowly down from above. The thuds and jumps seemed different now, more uneven…something crashed into the far wall up there, and then hit the floor with a resounding thud.

Her door smashed open, hitting the wall with a hurried crash and Rufe stood there with a wild look in his eyes.

“No! No, Hope, no!”

“What?” she asked. “I’m tired Rufe, not now, okay?”

“That’s Michael Flatus up there,” he hissed, tip-toeing up to her bedside and gently prying the gleaming blue weapon from her reluctant hand, although it was empty now anyway.

“Who? What?” she gasped.

“Yes!” he assured her. “Michael Flatus, the Broadway star, and a headliner in Danse of the Mucky Old Creeks.”

“That one was off Broadway, so far off Broadway you could say it was in the Bowery,” she noted doubtfully.

“I don’t care if it was Staten Island! He’s frickin’ famous,” Rufe stuttered.

It was quiet up there now. Blood dripped out of some holes over by the corner of the room.

Jaw hanging, eyeballs bulging, Rufe turned and stared at the ever-widening pool of blood in the corner.

“Now, if you don’t mind, sir, I would like to get some sleep,” said Hope, and with firm resolve, she turned over on her side, pulled the blankets up under her chin and closed her eyes.

“But…but…” he stammered.

“They’ll never hang a good-looking woman, Rufe,” she said without opening her eyes.

He thought about it for a moment. This was the woman he loved, and would, forever-more.

There was the sound of cautious footsteps, and then her door closed. She popped her eyes open, craned her neck, and made sure Rufe had really left the room. She leaned over, and checked under the bed. Then a very tired Hope Ng put her head down for good that night. She was snoring in ladylike fashion all of three minutes later, with visions of dumping magazine after magazine of 7.63 ball ammunition into carnival shooting galleries chock-full of sugar-plum fairies dancing in her head. She’d never actually fired the thing before. It was a really nice gun, when you got right down to it, even in that daze-like state between wakefulness and downright dreaming.

'On the Nature of the Gods' is available on iTunes in the iBookstore.

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