Book #3 is coming along nicely.

The first book took me two years to write, the second took me a year, and I’m hoping to pound out the third in six months.

That means I’ve got to really get on the ball. I think I can do it. And a book in six months is pretty professional. Heck, it’s probably way better than professional. But I’ve got to put out QUALITY writing. I don’t want to be a Nora Roberts equivalent who spits out a romance novel every three months. (Not that I plan on writing romance, unless the market REALLY takes a turn for the worse and I get desperate!)

All this means is that the first book really needs to sell well so Severed Press will demand an immediate sequel that is already written. Or else my stories will end with a quick and premature death. And I’ve a LOT more to write about in this world I’ve created.

So if I’ve sent you the first manuscript, and you liked it, buy a copy when it comes out. Then buy several more for your friends and family. Drive up the sales. Make it look popular. Heck, MAKE it popular!

But it’s been great to go back to the ‘early days’ of writing a book. Where the pages are blank and I’m just beating that keyboard like it owes me money. It’s the editing process that is SO tedious and time consuming… the rough drafting process is what I really love.

Because writing is problem solving. You’ve a million little issues that have to mesh together, not just the over arching story line and plot – which certainly has to go together, but figuring out each individual character’s subplot as well. (Because they all have a purpose, a reason for being and doing what they do, and that has to be explored and expounded upon.) It’s like a giant 2,000,000 piece puzzle that you get to cut the pieces to size and put them together how you see fit.

It’s just fun. Most of the time.

Also I just wrote an awesome intro scene that really drives home who my main character is and the lengths he is willing to go to do what he feels is right regardless of what the law says. And that’s Jedidiah Huckleberry Smith in a nutshell – Dark, quirky humor, with a morally ambiguous code of ethics, and the willingness to resort to gun play at  moment’s notice.

🙂

As for an update on when West of Prehistoric will come out – I don’t know anything yet. But the contract has been signed and I’m eager to start the publishing process.

As for a personal update.

I’m a Jeep guy, I’ve a built 2001 Jeep Wrangler that I’ve had since 2005 and will continue to have until the day my kids inherit it. I also bought another 2001 Cherokee XJ recently for a daily driver. (Sure, I could have something nicer like a Jeep Gladiator Truck… But debt is stupid.)

And because I can’t help but tinker sometimes, I removed the fender flares, cut the fender wells larger, and installed some armor on the back end to protect the tail lights. Sure, it’s just a daily driver, but it was built by a guy from NC4X4.com forum with upgraded suspension, axle shafts, lockers, etc and it’d be a shame to not take the kiddos out in something more comfortable than my TOY Wrangler.

Here’s the after/before pictures.

img_20200524_151301_9703934628505357884967.jpg

Turned out pretty well. I’ve still got a few rivnuts to fix on the body armor. (Rivnuts are the suckith.) And I managed to only cut myself once working the angle grinder when I cut the wheel wells open. 🙂 Now the wife says I need some rocker guard armor on it, and I agree. So that’s in the future.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how a daily driver gradually turns into an offroading toy!

A rough draft preview of East of Prehistoric. (The sequel to future best selling West of Prehistoric.)

I wanted to give a glimpse of what I’ve been working on. But I REDACTED a few parts of it to keep from giving away the ending of WoP for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. You’re not missing much, just the summarized portion of the narrative.

Anyways. Here’s the opening two chapters with an update on general things at the end.

***

August 1885

Four miles north of Granite Falls, Wyoming.

 

The hot summer sun beat down on me as I watched the massive dinosaur feasting on the rancher’s corpse.

Hunched over on all four legs, the top of the dinosaur’s back was eight feet high and from blood covered snout to the tip of tail was easily sixteen feet in length. A scarlet fin rose between its eyes, increasing in height over a sloping skull before running down the neck and fading away between the beast’s shoulder blades. The rest of its body, corded with thick muscle and sinew, was a light green, with smudges of brown for added camouflage.

It was the biggest dinosaur we’d found yet on this side of the tunnel. So, of course it had to be a predator.

The beast raised the mangled remains of the man with both front claws and crunched the man’s skull between blood stained teeth. Even from this distance, the sound was sickening. The dinosaur shook the corpse and a severed arm fell. The torn limb landed amongst scattered remains of the man’s ill-fated herd of sheep that he’d apparently died trying to protect.

Carbine stomped his hooves impatiently. He was anxious to be away, but I knew the soldiers needed more time to prepare, so I watched and waited as it ate the rancher.

Wrapping my fingers on the black Allosaurus claw that dangled from its leather cord around my neck, I leaned forward on the saddle pommel and thought about the events of the past couple months.

Battle of the Apes.

That’s what newspapers across America called it.

At the time, we just called it survival. And the only reason I was there at all was because I was hiding from my vengeful outlaw past. I was just trying to make a fresh start. Then an Allosaurus killed one of my horses and tried to kill me. I barely survived by filling it full of lead and finishing it off with a crate of dynamite. Then I ate it, and now I wear its claw as a memento of the occasion.

After that some prehistoric, triceratops riding, giant apes visited my ranch and tried to kill me. I back tracked them to their home and saw their leader ritualistically rip a man’s heart out of his chest. That ticked me off, so I killed a bunch of them in return, possibly sparking a war in the process. But the apes didn’t seem fans of peaceful coexistence anyways.

Then, REDACTED.

Sighing, I arched my back to work out a kink.

I must have moved too quickly, because the finned beast whipped its fearsome head in our direction and snorted loudly as it tried to get my scent.

Carbine tensed beneath me, and I took a sharp breath, realizing my mistake.

Apparently still hungry, the dinosaur growled and charged. Dropping onto all fours, the clawed feet sent tuffs of prairie grass into the air as it raced towards us. It moved faster than I’d have thought possible for an animal of its size.

Whipping Carbine around, I kicked my heels to his flanks and he surged forward into a dead sprint towards where we’d left the soldiers.

My name is Jedidiah Huckleberry Smith.

This is my story.

***

My mustang stretched his legs out, black mane and tail waving in the wind as we raced across the rolling plains.

“Good boy,” I told him fondly while resting a hand on the grip of one of my twin Colt Peacemakers. Twisting about in the saddle, I considered trying to put a.45 caliber slug into the dinosaur chasing us. At this distance, the chance of hitting was slim, but just running and not shooting seemed foreign to me and I’d have felt better if I could wound it a little.

Because it was gaining on us.

The large reptilian head opened its mouth wide, exposing jagged teeth and let loose an ear-piercing roar as it closed the distance between us.

Carbine responded by stretching his neck out and giving his all as he charged up a grassy hill towards a waiting pair of Gatling guns on the crest. Groups of soldiers stood by the weapons under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Carson. The young officer stood between them, sword raised, waiting to give the order for the multi-barreled guns to open fire once I was clear.

The dinosaur was dangerous enough, but worrying about a man getting fearful of the charging beast and firing before I reached safety certainly didn’t help the situation any. I crouched lower over Carbine’s and urged him on with a rebel yell.

With less than a hundred yards left between us and the angry dinosaur, I raced between the Gatling’s. It was close. Too close.

Sunlight glinted off the Lieutenant’s blade as he swept it down and screamed, “FIRE!”

Before the blade dropped past the man’s waist, the gun on the left began firing.

A steady pop-pop-pop-pop erupted from the bottom rotating barrel as the gunner cranked the handle, sending bullet after bullet towards the red crested beast.

Bullets hit the dinosaur, causing it to stumble to the side and the other rounds to miss. Swearing, the soldier fought the traversing mechanism to line the gun up on the rapidly approaching predator as the rest of his team dumped more cartridges into the gun’s hopper to keep it firing.

The monster roared in pain and anger, circling away from the loud contraption. The gunner twisted the weapon after the dinosaur, struggling to catch up to the moving beast.

The other Gatling remained silent. A soldier jerked the handle back and forth, but it was jammed and not rotating the firing mechanisms.

Without that weapon, we were in for a world of hurt.

I pulled my Eighty-Six from the scabbard. Racking the lever, I sent a large .45-70 cartridge into the chamber of the custom 1886 Winchester rifle.

Dinosaurs never go down easy. Ever.

“Get that gun operational!” Carson shouted as he rushed over to the crew served weapon. Soldiers manning the gun worked feverishly to fix it. The officer shoved a man aside and slid underneath the wheeled carriage, jamming his hands inside the gun from below. His young face contorted as he worked to free the gun.

The beast slowed, hesitating, and a jagged row of bullets stitched into the beast’s chest and hind quarters. It roared fearsomely and rushed further to our right side, circling around our position to flank us.

Tucking the polished wood stock into my shoulder, I fired into the creature’s chest at twenty yards away. The bullet hit, sending a splash of blood across the green pebbled hide. The finned dinosaur didn’t seem to notice and charged directly towards us.

“Oh hell,” I muttered as I slammed the action open and close, sending an empty brass shell spinning to the ground.

Soldiers working on the malfunctioning gun grabbed stacked rifles and began to open fire with their small arms. Frantic at the distance remaining, most of their bullets missed the dinosaur.

Several large strides later, the monster was upon us.

With a swing of its red finned head, the working Gatling was knocked aside and the soldier operating the weapon snatched up in its teeth. With a savage twist of its sloping head, the shrieking man was bitten in half. His legs fell beside another soldier who scrambled away and ran for the picketed horses fifty yards behind us.

Another followed, throwing down his weapon to flee the monster amongst us. The rest, braver, and perhaps more foolish, stood their ground and fought. They circled around the beast, firing rifles upwards into its large body as it twisted and thrashed, ripping men apart with tooth and claw.

The young Lieutenant crawled out from under the malfunctioning gun and was immediately flung a dozen feet into the tall grass with a slap of the dinosaur’s tail as it twisted about on the small crest.

Claws swiped across the front of another soldier to my right. Blood sprayed in an arc and splattered Carbine. My horse jerked his head, and fought the bit to get away as I hammered the beast with large rounds from my rifle. Bullets cracked past me as soldiers missed from the other side of the dinosaur. I swore and ducked involuntarily before firing again.

Behind us, two fleeing soldiers leapt onto horses, whipping them frantically with reins as they rode away.

Kicking my heels against Carbine, I put him into a trot, moving in a circle to maintain distance away from the beast as I concentrated on putting as many bullets from my expensive rifle into the dinosaurs finned head as possible. It was difficult with the thrashing, roaring, biting dinosaur raging among the few remaining soldiers. Only a couple shots connected, and while the beast seemed to be weakening and slowing, it still contained enough life in it to kill us all.

The dinosaurs tail smashed into the other Gatling, sending it tumbling over a pair of disfigured corpses. It rolled, crushing mutilated bodies under the wheels before bumping down the hill and toppling over.

Rifle empty, I thrust it into the tooled scabbard and drew my matching Colt Peacemakers. Not the stoutest of fire power against such a large beast but they were faster than a reload and this dinosaur needed to go down fast.

Carson burst from the tall grass armed with only his sword. Bleeding and limping, the young Lieutenant raced towards the beast, slashing and hacking at its back legs and tail. The blade did minimal damage, but the temporary distraction did allow the two remaining soldiers time to flee to the horses and mount.

“Run dammit!” I yelled at the officer and kicked Carbine’s flanks, sending him rushing towards the dinosaur and wounded Lieutenant. Firing both pistols, I screamed at the beast to distract it from the officer standing before it with bloodied sword raised.

Ignoring me, the dinosaur raised a clawed foot and stomped down. Thick talons sliced through the Carson’s face, chest, and stomach. Loops of intestines fell as the officer grabbed at his mortally wounded body and collapsed.

The beast viciously bit the officers face and savaged his body with front claws.

Screaming in rage, I let Carbine race us away from the gruesome scene.

The dinosaur didn’t seem interested in pursuing us, and we stopped on the next ridge by the remaining staged horses of the dead soldiers.

From where we’d set our ambush, there was nothing but broken Gatling guns and mangled corpses. Dismounting, I kicked a rock and swore. All those men, dead, because one of our two guns malfunctioned. Lieutenant Carson had been a good man as well. Smart, funny, filled with the youthful enthusiasm that I barely remembered having… also dead.

Raising its blood covered face towards the sky, the wounded beast roared its dominance over mankind, then took two steps, and fell. It struggled to rise, pulling legs beneath the large body, but only managing to raise its head off the ground.

I looked after the other soldiers who’d escaped, trails of dust showed they were riding towards town with no intent to come back. Cowardly, but I couldn’t blame them. Only four of them survived and their commanding officer was dead.

The remaining horses were uneasy. They could smell the scent of blood and death in the air. We’d picketed them away from the shooting, but their masters were all dead now. I pulled up their stakes and gave them a gentle slap on the rump to send them on their way. They’d wander back to town in a day or two. Unless something ate them, or they were caught by the Indians. After the battle, the local Shaynee tribe had so much U.S. Government marked equipment that another half dozen horses wouldn’t be noticed. They got away with a lot now, because REDACTED. Also, they were no longer our main concern. Apes and dinosaurs were. For the moment, we were at peace with the Indians.

Picking a spot that looked relatively comfortable, I crawled into the prone position with the Eighty-Six. Laying on my belly and cradling the gun in my hands, I flipped the peep sight upright and squinted at the bladed front sight. The working Gatling and soldier’s bullets had done their job, the beast was dying. But until it stopped breathing, it was dangerous.

I waited for a clean shot. The Lieutenant and his men were going to be avenged by my bullet. REDACTED wouldn’t like it, she’d want the head as unmutilated as possible. But we’d already shot the creature to rags and it still didn’t quit.

The dinosaur struggled again, thrashing its tail against the ground. This time it managed to stand. Blood oozed from puckered wounds along its chest and side. It took one careful step and halted, swaying slightly. The finned head swung towards me and glared.

I squeezed the trigger, letting the break of the hammer be a surprise and sending the large 200 grain 45-70 bullet into the dinosaur’s skull. It staggered to the side, the large toothed head dipping as the creature wobbled side to side. It clawed a front leg at its face, then toppled over. The beast spasmed, legs and claws tearing up chunks of prairie dirt in death throes.

Racking the lever, I waited, much longer than was probably necessary, to make sure the beast was dead. The skull was thick, probably a half inch of more, and I wanted to make sure I punctured it instead of just knocking the dinosaur out. The risk of being eaten wasn’t worth the time saved by impatience.

After fifteen minutes passed, I put another bullet into the dinosaurs head. This time it didn’t so much as twitch. Ejecting the shell casing, I stood and rested the heavy rifle over a shoulder.

All manner of dinosaurs had made it through the tunnel before the fort was built. Most of them were relatively harmless. But some, like this strange red finned predator, were menaces that needed to be put down.

And put them down we did.

***

UPDATE TIME:

So. Hows the writing going?

Not at all. I’m burnt out. I’m taking a break, I haven’t written anything but blog posts for the past two weeks. I’m struggling with chronic fatigue/breathing issues, for reasons we haven’t figured out, and it makes me exhausted by 8:30 pm. Which means I have the awake hours of a toddler now. Except without the opportunity to nap.

Also we are buying a mansion.

Well, I call it a mansion because it’s 2x the size of the house we are living in now. But Google tells me that a mansion is 5,000 sq feet or bigger, and ours ain’t that. So I guess we are just buying a nice, big house. With lots of bathrooms. I don’t know why we need 3.5 bathrooms, but the house came with them.

I think one of them should be turned into an armory with a vault door. -sigh- Speaking of which, I need a bigger gun safe. I can’t fit everything in mine. Add that to the list of new furniture the new house will require.

Anyways, that’s been a huge time suck. But, historically speaking, I tend to write very little during Nov/December and jump back into full swing in Jan. That’s how the past two years of writing have been and it appears this year will be no different.

And we will have to sell our house AFTER we buy this house, so that will be a huge time suck also once we close on the mansion. I’m exhausted just thinking about everything we have to do for the rest of the year.

What else.

Oh yes, I’m doing another Spartan Race this weekend.

But no worries, I’m just in the absolute worst shape of my life, plus dealing with the fatigue and breathing issue that are making everything difficult. And of course, we are doing a Beast, which is a 13-15 mile obstacle course. Yay.  Generally speaking, we have been doing the Trifecta (All 3 Spartan Races) every year for the past three years. But this year I had a lot of health issues and we put it off until pretty much the final race of the season… and it’s supposed to be around 45 degrees. So… awesome. Just… awesome. That means the water obstacles will be barely above freezing.

I’m cold and tired and hungry just thinking about it.

But hey, if I survive I get a free beer at the end!

A deleted dream. Some Art.

I ended up taking this out of the first book. After several revisions, it wasn’t needed.

But I like it.

***

I dreamed that I walked amongst death and destruction as a storm poured out its wrath overhead.

Bodies were strewn everywhere as the remains of the town burned. Pierced, crushed, mangled, and some, gnawed on. Smoky fog drifted from dozens of fires that rain struggled to quench.

Lightning crashed, momentarily blinding me, before rolling thunder pounded my senses from above.

I stepped around carnage as in the rain-soaked street. The slaughter had been complete. Women. Children. Horses. Livestock. Nothing lived. The only sound was the hiss of raindrops falling amidst flames.

Stopping, I dropped to my knees in the muck. Of all the massacred bodies that lay trampled in the mud, scattered on the boardwalks, and among the flickering flames. It was hers that gave me pause.

A little girl lay in a pool of blood, her white dress soaked with crimson from the spear sticking from her chest. Her light blue eyes were open and unblinking as rain fell onto them. Strands of blonde hair plastered against her cheeks. A homemade doll clenched tight in her tiny hand.

I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t know who any of these people were. But I recognized the town. It was mine.

Closing her eyes, I gently tugged the doll free. Wiping blood off with my thumb, a small buttoned face smiled back at me.

The puddle of blood from the girls body rippled.

My eyes flicked to it. I watched it ripple again as the ground trembled.

I looked up as a massive four-legged beast lumbered through the thick gray smoke at the end of the street, and stopped.

It was an odd-looking creature. Two large horns above its eyes jutted out and a smaller one rising lower on its face. A bone shield flared out from the top of its head, giving protection to its neck and shoulders, and behind it sat something vaguely human.

The rider was bigger than a man, with thick dark hair covering most of its body except its painted chest and face. It reminded me of the apes from my childhood picture books. But this one wasn’t cute and cuddly with a banana. Instead, it was large and terrifying.

The ape raised a stone club above its head and roared, jerking on the reins. The three-horned beast reared, shook massive horns, then splashed heavily to the ground in a spray of muddy brown water.

I felt it in my chest, a primordial challenge that honor and justice demanded be accepted. Trembling in rage, I gently tucked the doll back into the girl’s hand and stood, drawing a pair of matching revolvers.

As rain dripped from the brim of my hat, I thumbed the hammers back.

I was going to cut the ape’s heart out and eat it.

The three-horned mount rushed forward with a bellow. The ground shook as it bore down on me.

The ape roared, raising the club to strike.

Jerking the pistols up, I pulled the triggers.

***

So, some art, right?

This is the initial sketch that the talented Mike Katoglou sent me when I was shopping around for someone to create a banner for me. (Which I still need… hmmm…)

western dinosaur

I loved it so much that I asked for a sketch style drawing. That awesomeness turned into this:

FalPicWOP

Not much else going on. It’s just been a week so I needed to post something.

The writing continues – The world still spins.

Hope everyone has a great week.

RAWR! Pew! Pew! Pew!

(Work in Process title!)

Final editing just isn’t fun… But it’s going well.  Like shooting, where trigger time equates to increased skill and accuracy, time on a keyboard equates to increased writing skill. So we are getting there, slowly, painfully… word by word…edit by edit…

Anywho – here’s the intro to ‘The Greatest Magnificent Seven/Planet of the Apes/Jurassic Park Combo you will ever read’.

Enjoy the violence.

And give feedback. I don’t give a hoot about my feelings, what’s more important is to churn out a solid, good quality, and entertaining product.

PS – WordPress has a new blog editor, and it stinks. So there may be some funny spacing and whatnot. (But any grammar errors are mine unfortunately.)

EDIT – Part TWO – Click HERE.

***

June 1885.

 

Circling buzzards made the killing field easy enough to find.

Soldier’s bodies lay scattered for a half mile across open prairie. Mangled, crushed, gnawed on. They’d made a running fight of it, but were slaughtered anyway.

A dozen men. Armed with the finest weapons and equipment since the War Between the States. Trained and experienced in fighting Indians, rustlers, and outlaws.

For all the good that did them.

All I could find were a couple of dead apes and a single wounded triceratops.

Sending the squad out had been the Lieutenants decision. I didn’t blame him. He didn’t have a choice. But with the loss of these men, our low chances of survival dropped even further.

Turning my horse around, I touched heels to his flanks, leaving the weapons for the Indians to find. They were going to need them.

As for me?

My name is Jedidiah Huckleberry Smith.

And I’m probably going to die as well.

 

***

Two weeks earlier.

Smith Ranch, Wyoming Territory

 

The edge on the heavy axe burst through the wood with a satisfying thunk, sending splinters flying as the log split apart. Twin chunks toppled off the large stump. Picking one of the pieces, I set it to be split again, then rested on the axe handle.

With a gloved hand, I pushed a soaked mop of unruly black hair out of my eyes and blinked rapidly as a drop of sweat trickled into an eye. My shoulders ached, and my stomach growled.

My horse Carbine, a beautiful dun, stomped his hooves, impatient that he had to stay harnessed to the wagon while waiting for me to finish my work. Ignoring him, I stretched. As my back arched, I felt the familiar tugging from the large mass of decades old scar tissue.

The scars were a constant reminder of the singular day that changed the course of my life, and ultimately led me to where I am now. Living in isolation on a small cattle ranch, a fugitive from justice, a former outlaw… a damaged man. And somewhere out there, someone owed me a debt of blood for the scars. Someone who’d eluded me almost my entire life. Someone who may very well already be dead, but not by my hand. I wasn’t sure which was worse, him still breathing, or someone else stealing the pleasure of taking his life.

Angry thoughts shifted my mood darker, and I quickly swung the axe over my shoulders and slammed the angular blade down with far more force than necessary. The explosion of splinters as the fractioned log burst apart did nothing to ease the hot anger that boiled up from within.

It was the sort of rage that made me want to stop this foolish charade of being a law-abiding citizen and go back to hunting him down. But that was pointless, there were no trails left to follow. They’d all gone cold years ago. Just like the bodies I’d left in my vengeful wake.

I swallowed hard and forced myself to take deep breaths. That wasn’t me anymore. For two years now, I’d begun to put down roots, even if I wasn’t much of a cattleman. And for once in my life, I was invested in something good and solid. Something that wouldn’t shoot back at me.

Putting hands on my hips, I looked around the pasture, pleased with the amount of work I’d accomplished today. It was hard work, but rewarding. Felling trees, then sawing and chopping them into firewood was the hard part, the rewarding part was blowing the stumps up with dynamite. My ears still rang.

In the distance, storm clouds were gathering above the Granite Mountains and making their way towards me. It looked like a real doozy, but I was done for the day anyways. Tossing the axe and saws into the wagon, I threw a few more pieces of split wood into the back to top the load off.

Taking the gun belt down that rested on the seat of the wagon, I buckled it around my waist and climbed aboard. Call it a natural impulse, but I had a very rational fear of being unarmed. Without my Colt Peacemaker on one side, balanced by a nine-and-a-half-inch Bowie on the other, I may as well have been naked.

Carbine looked over his shoulder, and I could tell he was displeased. He’d been pulling double duty today as my mare, Misty, rested lame in the barn. Slapping the reins on his back, the tan horse leaned into his harness and the heavily laden wagon began to roll forward.

Relaxing as much as possible on the bumpy ride, I watched nearby cattle move into the trees to avoid the coming storm. My spread wasn’t that big, but if my small herd kept growing, I’d need to hire some ranch hands on. That’d be a hassle all on its own. In the meantime, being alone suited me just fine.

Once we reached the house, I stopped my horse and lashed a canvas sheet over the firewood, before turning him loose in the fenced corral beside the barn.

As I bent over to lock the gate behind him, Carbine snatched the hat off my head and trotted off, the black battered Stetson dangling from between his lips. He dropped it a dozen yards away and pranced in a circle around it, flipping black mane and tail happily.

Swearing, I crawled through the creaking rails of the corral and picked the hat up. I considered smacking him with it, but he kept his distance, as if knowing my intentions. Instead, I slapped it against my leg a few times to knock the fresh dirt and slobber off.

It figures. I’ve two horses, one lame and the other an asshole.

I watched him happily trot into the pole shed built against the barn. He preferred that spot to stand in the shade and spend the night. Even with the big storm coming in, I wasn’t concerned, the walled sides and thatched roof would protect him from the worst of it.

As a light rain began to fall and the distant rumble of thunder grew louder, I pulled the axe, saw, and leftover dynamite from the wagon and hauled them to the barn. The doors were closed, and as usual, stuck shut. I kicked, swore, jerked, and tugged on them before I finally got one open. They were wretched things, big and stout, as all things in the west needed to be. But they were a constant aggravation and would certainly be the death of me. One of these days, I’d split a gut forcing them open, and die writhing in the dirt as they towered over me, locked shut in their mockery.

But the barn itself was a great big thing. A story and a half tall, with a wide opening down the center and several stalls along the side. Big enough to hold over a dozen cattle or horses with room to spare. Hay was kept in the loft, gradually added to during the short summer in preparation for keeping my critters alive in case of a long, hard winter.

Dropping the tools at the end of the barn by the small back door, I stopped by Misty’s stall to feed her an apple. It’d only been two days since I noticed her favoring her right front leg. The swelling had gone down, but she still favored it and needed more rest.

Unlike Carbine, she was a good horse.

I gave her a good scratch on her withers before jogging through the rain and onto the porch of my one room ranch house. Once under cover, I turned and watched the swirling gray clouds grow nearer. It looked like we were in for a big one. The toe of my boot hit something as I opened the door. My saddle sat next to the rocking chair where I’d mended some stitching this morning. It needed to be put away still, but I wasn’t about to lug it back through the rain to the barn now. It’d be fine here for the night.

Lightning split the distant sky, and I counted the seconds before the boom reached me. Five seconds. That meant it was about five miles out and appeared to be just getting warmed up. Knocking mud clumps from my boots, I stepped inside to settle in for a stormy night.

***

The terrified scream of a horse jerked me awake and out of bed.

Two long strides and I peeked through the cross shaped firing port in the closed shutter.

With the storm blocking most of the moonlight, visibility was limited. I couldn’t see much of anything, and heard nothing else except the drumming of rain and wind against the roof.

It was times like this when I was thankful that I didn’t sleep naked.

I jerked boots on over bare feet and slung the thick leather gun belt around my cotton threaded drawers. From above the door, I took down a well-worn Winchester 1873 rifle and worked the lever, jacking a cartridge into the chamber. With weapon in hand, I felt the reassuring comfort that only ample amounts of firepower can give a man when he faces unknown things that go bump in the night.

I waited, standing still, listening for any noises past the sounds of the rain and wind. Nothing.

Lighting a lantern, I stepped into the storm.

The rain was falling at a slant, cutting underneath the roof on the porch and soaking me to the bone. I regretted not grabbing my slicker.

Rain plastered my hair to my scalp and I shuddered as cold water ran down my bare chest and back before soaking into my underwear. The lantern gave off a low glow, fighting to penetrate through the rain and darkness.

The open barn door squeaked on its hinges as I moved across the yard. Lightning flashed and moments later the rumbling thunder washed over me.

Holding the lantern out, I saw the top two rails of the corral lay splintered and broken on the ground.

I inspected the damage and area around it. No sign of blood or struggle, just a single set of hoof tracks leading away towards the forest at a run. Obviously, Carbine broke through the fence, but why? It wasn’t like him to leave shelter and run into a storm.

Lightning flashed again, illuminating the empty corral and splitting a tree at the edge of the forest in a flash of sparks. The boom of thunder hit me a split second later followed by the heavy barn door thumping as it bounced against the board siding.

A couple of soft thuds came from inside the building and I took a few hesitant steps towards the barn, uncertain of what I’d heard. Another thud, followed by a crunching, like branches being stepped on. Then a snort and a tearing noise. More crunching.

I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. It was hard to make out. Rain pounded my body, trees groaned and cracked in the heavy wind, and the rumble of thunder rolled over me again. Now I heard nothing but the noises of the storm and repeated thumping of the lone swinging door.

Puzzled, I figured I may as well check on Misty.

Rain poured heavily down from the angled roof, putting a sheet of falling water between myself and the inside of the barn. A hard wind gust hit me, and I staggered before leaning into it.

Frustrated with the pounding wind and cold rain, I raised the lantern and ducked through the sheet of water and into the barn. It covered me, soaking whatever tiny bits of my body that had remained dry so far.

I took two steps inside, blinking rapidly to clear the water from my eyes, and then I skidded to a sudden stop.

There was a monster in the barn.

Facing away from me, the giant beast swung its head over a shoulder and glared.

The creature had a thick, heavy head, almost reptilian in appearance. Something dangled from clenched teeth. Dark liquid dripped from jaws and onto the dirt floor. Black eyes reflected lantern light, giving off a sinister appearance. Two bony ridges started above the slanted nostrils, growing larger as they ran along its head and flared out above the eyes before ending at the top of its skull. Small bumps and ridges ran down the back of its neck along its spine, ending above the beasts shoulder blades.

A large, thick tail rose slightly into the air, tapering to a point, close enough I could have reached out and touched it. Muscular and powerful hind legs held the rear end up, while the front arms dug claws into Misty’s body.

My sweet, injured horse lay ripped open, entrails and ribbons of torn flesh strewn among the shattered boards of her stall.

Shocked, I realized a hind leg dangled from the beast’s mouth. Broken shards of bone glistened palely from the lantern light against the darkened flesh.

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was in front of me.

The barn door thumped behind me in the wind.

The severed limb dropped with a sickly wet thud and the monster snorted softly, tilting its head to the side. It sniffed, as though trying to figure out what small creature would dare approach so boldly.

We stared at each other in the glow of the lantern, the moments stretching, then a strong gust of wind slammed the door shut behind me with a boom that shook the building.

That broke the magical moment.

I flinched as the monster roared, the noise assaulting my ears and revealing rows of large curved teeth coated with blood and bits of flesh. The stench was overpowering and nauseating. Droplets of blood and pieces of Misty flew from its mouth, splattering against my chest and face.

Forgetting the rifle in my hands, I turned and ran face first into the door.

It didn’t budge. It was stuck. It was always stuck.

I shoved with a shoulder, throwing all my weight against the rough boards.

Nothing.

Screaming in rage, I stepped back and kicked in a last-ditch attempt to force it open.

It failed.

The creature turned in the confines of the hallway to face me, its tail slamming into the center beam with an audible crack.

The second-floor joists creaked and groaned as the heavy weight of hay shifted on the broken post.

I quickly looked for a way out. The large double doors were jammed shut. The windows in the stalls were too narrow to fit through. That left only the small door at the far end of the barn. But the beast stood between myself and escape.

The creature lunged, mouth agape and teeth bared.

Diving to the side, I dropped the lantern and it burst, spewing flaming oil as I rolled away.

The monster’s mouth snapped shut where I’d been a moment before, then the creature jerked back, hissing, as it recoiled from the explosion of flames.

Kneeling, I gripped the rifle tighter.

It was time to fight back.

Jerking the smooth wood stock against my shoulder, I squeezed the trigger, sending a 200-grain bullet into the beast’s chest.

Instinctively, I shucked the lever and fired again without waiting to see its reaction. Because I had ten rounds and I intended to use them all to send this creature back to the hell it came from. I worked the rifle quickly, peppering the beast with bullet after bullet.

Roaring in pain and anger, the creature lunged.

I flung myself aside, stumbling to avoid the spreading flames and slamming my face into the roughhewn boards of a stall.

Pain shot through my skull and tears welled as the rifle flew from my grasp.

Blinking, I rolled desperately as a clawed arm swiped at me. A sharp line of pain flashed hot across my chest. But the stall saved me by taking the brunt of the blow, sending shards of wood showering down on me.

I scrambled backwards, trying to put more distance between us. Blood trickled down my chest, but I ignored the wound. If I didn’t die in the immediate future, I’d worry about it later.

The beast turned after me, its tail slashing through the smoke and slamming the stuck door open. Storm winds blew inside, fanning the flames higher.

The interior of the barn became a flickering smoke-filled haze as the fire spread, licking the sides of the stalls and along the door jam.

Smoke wafted around the monster, illuminating it with dancing shadows. Dark fluid oozed from puckered holes where my bullets had found their target.

I stood carefully, bracing myself to move for another sudden attack.

The monster watched, eyes following my movements. It slowly rose on hind legs, the thick tail dropping to the floor, front arms spread with black claws extended. The gaping maw of bloodied jagged teeth opened.

I could taste its rotten breath in the air.

The beast reared back slightly, mouth opening impossibly wide as it prepared to strike.

This time, I was ready.

Drawing my pistol, I fired from the hip.

I emptied the Peacemaker. Each bullet hit a little higher than the last as I rode the recoil and worked my shots up its large body. The final bullet skimmed along the beast’s snout, slicing open a flap of skin, exposing bone, and blowing out one of the creature’s eye sockets.

The monster roared and thrashed its arms, pawing the wound that partially blinded it.

Damn thing just wouldn’t die.

Turning to run, I tripped over Misty’s remains. Blood, organs, and rendered flesh squished under my weight. My hand went into her stomach. Gagging, I slipped off her corpse into a stall.

The boards gave me a moment of concealment, but I had no illusion about their usefulness as protection. If I was found, the beast would make short work of my hiding spot.

Flipping the barrel of the revolver upwards, I rotated the cylinder and quickly dumped the empty shells. With gore covered fingers, I began to reload, carefully feeding cartridges into the chambers, one by one. Each turn of the cylinder made a quiet snick that I prayed the monster didn’t hear.

Lightning struck nearby, temporarily overwhelming my senses with the painful crack of electricity.

I froze.

The barn was silent except for the crackle of growing flames and a low rhythmic hissing.

Smoke drifted into the stall, burning my eyes and lungs. I fought to stifle a cough.

Suddenly, black claws gripped the wood rail above me and I cringed lower as splinters trickled down. The beast leaned forward, searching the barn with its good eye. Blood dripped off the creatures pebbled hide and splattered onto my bare shoulders.

I only had two cartridges loaded. Fearful of making a noise, I eased the loading gate on the pistol shut over the cylinder, wincing at the tiny click it gave. Tilting the barrel upwards, I pointed it under the monster’s jaw and began taking up the slack on the trigger.

The beast jerked back out of sight.

I gave a small sigh of relief.

Violently, I was catapulted forward onto my face as the damaged reptilian head slammed through the wall of the stall I’d been leaning against.

Teeth snapped shut as I scrambled away and rolled onto my back. The beasts head jutted through shattered boards, snarling and snapping as it strained to get through. Nails shrieked as the wall threatened to tear away from the posts at any moment.

Firmly gripping the pistol tightly with both hands, I raised my head and fired between my knees.

The bullet hit and skimmed along the thick skull like the last, gashing open another flap of thick skin and exposing bone. The monster jerked at the pain and my remaining shot missed.

Screaming in rage, I resisted the temptation to hurl my empty pistol at its bloodied face.

The beast wrenched its head back and forth, struggling to pull back through the jagged broken wall. Boards, bent inward from the creature’s intrusion, pushed against the back of the monster’s skull. They tightened and dug into flesh as it fought to free itself. The foul creature hissed and snapped.

I shoved my pistol into its holster and crawled into the open room and around Misty’s mutilated remains.

The smoke was harsh and filling the barn. I coughed and hacked as it threatened to suffocate me. Looking past the thrashing beast’s tail, I spied my rifle near the entrance with flames licking the barrel. Desperate for a loaded weapon, I slid across the packed dirt floor and scooped up the gun. The barrel was hot, the stock singed in places, but thankfully the rounds hadn’t cooked off from the heat yet.

The beast roared, grabbing and ripping at the broken boards trapping its head with claws. Splayed feet dug into the ground as it leveraged its thick hind quarters to break through the wood. The tail thrashed back and forth, flinging tools and equipment across the floor and into the flames.

Bits of burning hay from the rafters fell between us as flames licked the ceiling.

The large front door was still open, but a raging inferno stood between me and my escape.

The only option was still the small door in the far end. And in my desperation for a loaded weapon, I foolishly made the horrible mistake of putting the monster back between me and my exit.

With a mighty jerk, the creature pulled itself free and backed into the cracked center post.

It broke.

The center of the barn crashed down, dropping burning debris, and stopping a mere handful of feet above the beast. Barely supported by broken and creaking joists, the barn threatened to collapse on us at any moment. Flames whooshed higher from air entering through the shattered roof, fanning them to towering heights as rain poured in and fought to quench them. The air cleared slightly as smoke billowed out above us.

Amidst the flames and smoke, I looked at the bloodied harbinger of death and terror before me.

Blood oozed from the monster’s wounds, bits of splintered wood were embedded in its flesh, and one eye was a gaping ruin seeping blood from the mangled socket. A front arm hung low, damaged from one of my bullets.

I racked the lever and savored the snick of the action closing on a fresh round. I didn’t know how many bullets were left in the tube. Four? Five?

Didn’t matter. If I was going to be eaten, the beast would have to gnaw through my empty guns first.

The creature charged with a roar.

Adrenaline and fear gave speed to my hands. Jerking the barrel up, I stroked the action, firing faster than I ever had before.

My aim was true.

The monstrosity twitched and shuddered as it absorbed the rounds, slowing down as massive tissue damage and blood loss weakened the beast. But it still didn’t stop coming with mouth and claws spread wide.

In desperation, I shoved the rifle in front of me and wedged it horizontally into the creatures open mouth. Large teeth clamped down, narrowly missing my hands. A gnarled, wet tongue slapped against the weapon as the stock splintered and broke beneath the pressure of its jaws. Even in a weakened state, its strength far surpassed my own.

Hot, rotten breath bathed me as the beast pushed me backwards towards the raging fire.

I screamed as the heat became unbearable and let go of the broken gun, diving aside before I was pushed into the blazing hot inferno.

The beast’s head thrust into the flames. It sizzled and popped as skin and raw wounds burned. The creature roared in pain around the rifle jutting out from each side of its mouth. A flailing arm backhanded me and flung me like a rag doll.

I hit the ground with a heavy thud and slid against a shattered stall.

Forcing myself up, I ran around the struggling creature to the rear of the barn, dodging bundles of flaming hay raining down.

The monster thrashed, slamming into broken walls and beams as it tried dislodging the jammed rifle from its mouth.

The front of the barn shuddered under the impacts. It was a miracle the flaming structure still stood.

The barn had become a hellfire with a demon trapped inside, roaring in pain and anger. Smoke swirled around the beast, while rain dripped through the broken roof and fought spreading flames.

Reaching the back door, I paused as I noticed my tools from earlier. Next to the wedged head of the axe sat a small marked wooden chest with rope handles. Jerking the lid off, I saw the leftover paper wrapped sticks of dynamite from earlier.

This was more like it.

I grabbed a blast cap and jammed it onto the explosive. Twisting the fuse around my fingers, I snapped it off short.

The partially blinded monster knocked the rifle out of its mouth and began stalking down the aisle. Blood and saliva dripped onto the floor, sizzling in the flames. It jerked its head aside as a bundle of burning hay fell in front of it. The wounded arm dangled lower now, and a hind leg dragged, giving it an uneven gait as it approached.

Rage seemed to be keeping the wretched thing alive.

Using a nearby flame, I ignited the fuse in a shower of sparks and burned quickly towards the blasting cap. Tossing the stick back in the crate, I kicked the box towards the beast before running out the back door into the rain.

Fire rose high into the air behind me as the barn was consumed in flames.

Slipping in the wet grass, I stumbling to my knees. Pushing up from the rain-soaked ground, I ran for the house. Shelter seemed so far away.

Behind me came a bestial roar followed by heavy thuds.

I dared a backwards look.

The monster ripped the small door off its hinges. Claws grabbed the frame and ripped pieces away as the creature fought to get through the narrow opening. The wall screeched and shuddered as siding snapped and broke.

Shoving its mangled head and shoulders through the opening, the monster roared at me.

The dynamite blew.

A chunk of flaming debris hit me like a train, driving air from my lungs and slamming me backwards against the ground.

For a moment, everything went dark.

Then I became acutely aware of pain. I blinked rapidly. Everything hurt. The gash across my chest stung. My lungs and throat felt like they were on fire. Dozens of small scrapes and cuts covered my singed body. My long underwear was in tatters.

I coughed.

Pain from the movement almost consumed me.

Bits of smoking debris were scattered throughout the yard. A pitchfork was embedded nearby, its broken handle on fire.

What remained of the barn shuddered and collapsed in a shower of sparks and flame.

The beast lay near me. Blood ran from its many wounds and mingled with the rain. The rear legs and tail were shredded and mangled from the explosion.

But still, it lived.

The hellish beasts single remaining dark orb glared. Snarling, it weakly stretched a forelimb towards me, sharp claws open and reaching.

My battered body responded sluggishly as I drew my Colt. I pointed the trembling barrel at the beast’s face, and pulled the trigger.

Click.

The pistol was empty.

I dropped the useless gun and with thick, fumbling fingers grasped the handle of my Bowie.

The claws that reached for me suddenly clutched at the wet soil and with a violent spasm, the beast shuddered, before giving a final rattling breath and laying still.

Lighting danced across the sky as the storm raged on and closing my eyes, I embraced the pain and darkness.

***

I woke hacking and coughing, with a pounding headache and soaked to the bone as a light rain continued to fall. My empty pistol lay beside me, wet and gleaming in the early rays of the morning sun that peeked through retreating storm clouds.

The monster still stared at me, bloodied lips parted in a snarl, the single eye dulled and milky in death.

Beyond the creature, all that remained of my barn was a tumbled mass of burnt timbers and rubble amongst small residual flames that hissed in the rain. A thick gray smoke drifted across the yard.

Bits of smoldering wreckage and charred debris lay scattered around me.

Pushing myself up, I grabbed the gun and stumbled across the yard to the house. Slamming the door shut, I lowered the door bar and dropped to the floor with my back against the wall. If more monsters lurked outside, I didn’t know if a barred door would stop them. But it was comforting, and right now, I felt like a kitten could finish me off with a single blow.

I dumped the spent brass from my pistol onto the floor. Pulling fresh cartridges from my belt, I reloaded. The gun, while smeared with the same sticky blood that coated me, would still function and that’s all that mattered.

Stripping out of my boots and tattered underwear, I left them in a heap in the middle of the room and crawled naked into bed. My pistol I laid within reach on a small table.

Lying there, I stared at the exposed rafters in disbelief.

Misty was ripped apart, Carbine missing, and my barn burnt to the ground because of an ungodly creature. My mind tried to convince itself this wasn’t happening, but the pain proved it was all too real.

I closed my eyes again.

***

When I woke hours later, I felt like I had been shot at, missed, shit at, and hit all over.

My joints were stiff. The cut across my chest was a congealed mass of blood and ash. Small nicks, cuts, and burns covered me. The stench of singed hair and blood filled my nostrils. Moving gingerly, I opened the shutters, squinting at the bright light as my eyes adjusted. The yard was just how I remembered it from last night. Full of burnt debris with a giant mangled corpse near the ruination that’d been my barn.

As for the inside of the house, it looked like someone had been murdered. Ash mingled with blood smeared along where I’d fumbled my way inside. The trail led inside the door, against the wall, and across the floor to the scattered pile of bloodied and shredded clothing.

Sighing, I pulled pants and boots on before stepping outside.

Carbine trotted around the side of the house, head and tail held high, as if proud that he’d survived. He snorted and pranced, keeping his distance from the smoldering remains of the barn and the monster’s carcass.

Leaving him to wander around, I cleaned myself up in the creek.

The filthy and crusted scab over my chest was inspected and carefully washed first. The single claw that caught me ripped the flesh deep enough to warrant a few stitches. I’d gotten lucky, if all three claws had hit me with their full force, I’d be inside the creature’s belly by now.

Then swallowing a couple slugs of whiskey, I bit down on a piece of folded leather before drizzling some of the harsh liquid across the wound. Tears rolled from my eyes at the burst of fresh pain. Then I stitched the gash shut, screaming through clenched teeth as the thread pulled torn flesh back together.

Once finished, the stitches looked horrible, but they’d hold.

Taking up the scrap of cloth again, I wiped away the rest of the grime, and looked in a small shaving mirror, I realized just how beat up I was. In addition to all my other ailments, I had two black eyes and a nice goose egg bump on my head from slamming into the stall.

I looked like hammered crap.

After cleaning myself up the best I could, I rocked back and forth on the porch, staring at the remains of the beast.

Even dead, it was frightening to behold.

Large and powerful, corded with muscle under pebbled tan hide. The undamaged eye that’d been so menacing last night was glazed over, but the teeth and claws still showed the creature’s lethality. I’d never seen or even heard of anything like it.

Then there was the barn, which was destroyed.

Luckily my saddle survived. Leaving it on the porch last night had been a blessing. But the cost to replace the rest of my gear and tools lost in the fire would be staggering.

Not to mention Misty. She’d been a good horse.

And somewhere in the ashes were the remains of my rifle.

At least I had a spare, an old Spencer Repeater. Twenty years past its prime and fed by loading cartridges into a tube through the buttstock. It was something of an outdated oddity now. But it fired a hard-hitting round that could kill a buffalo.

It’d do if more beasts came calling, and right now, it lay fully loaded within arm’s reach.

I whistled for Carbine and managed to harness and saddle him without too much swearing at the pain or his need to constantly side step away from me.

The Sheriff needed to know about this. More of these monsters might be lurking around and while I got lucky, anyone else caught in the open, unprepared, would be creature food. The hard part would be convincing him.

Luckily, I had a big corpse.

Taking a small axe that I used for splitting kindling from the house, I collected my proof.

Afterward, I slid the Spencer into the leather saddle scabbard. My vest pockets jingled with loose rounds for the rifle and the loops in my belt were filled with .45 cartridges for the Peacemaker. I wanted to be ready for anything. If I had more dynamite, I would’ve stuffed it into the saddlebags as well.

Easing myself up in the saddle, we rode the trail towards town.

I was edgy the entire way, watching for anything that might want to eat me. It was an uncomfortable ride. The pain from constantly shifting in the saddle coupled with my high level of alertness was exhausting.

But after several hours, we reached Granite Falls.

***

 

The saga continues with RAWR! Pew! Pew! Pew-Part Tew!