Today on The Tattooed Book Geek I am pleased to be bringing to you all a book excerpt from Dawn in Damnation by Clark Casey.
Dawn in Damnation
Dawn in Damnation is a paranormal western with gun-toting outlaws and vampires set in the afterlife. Think Deadwood meets True Blood beyond the grave.
Book Excerpt from Dawn in Damnation
“What happened?” asked the young man with a nickel-sized bullet hole in his temple.
“Well, what’s the last thing you remember?” I asked him.
“Was playin’ cards with some cowpuncher. Drew a flush, and he ’cused me a cheatin’. So I reached for my Colt. Reckon he did the same.”
“My guess is he was faster.”
The newbie had that stunned look they all got in their eyes when they first arrived. He was hardly old enough to grow a proper beard. Just another cowpoke born in a shitty little town who’d rustled some steer, made it with a few whores, then died over a two-dollar pot.
“So’s this hell?” His voice quavered. Probably already browned his britches with fear shit.
“Not quite,” I told him.
“Purgatory then?” He tried to put on a brave face.
“Kinda… the opposite, ’spose you could say.”
“Well, imagine if you was like a stone in a creek bed. After you die, a panhandler scoops you up with a bunch of other muck and runs you through his sifter. All the stuff that falls through goes straight to hell. The rest gotta be cleaned off to see if it’s worth keeping. So you might say you’re just here till the panhandler finds out whether or not you got any shine to ya.”
“Is this hell’s sifter?”
“Folks call it Damnation.”
“Who’s the panhandler?” he asked, “God?”
“Dunno.” I shrugged.
He gave the room a squinty eye, trying to reckon if it wasn’t all just a dream. The Foggy Dew had the same creaky chairs and sticky tables you’d find in any other saloon, though a little less flair perhaps. No trinkets on the mantel, just a simple dusty place to drink. Some cried when they found out where they were. Others were overjoyed they hadn’t ended up someplace worse. The kid didn’t look too impressed.
“What’s there to do ’round here?” he asked.
“Drink, play cards… wait.”
“Till you go to hell, of course.”
“How’s that happen?”
“Get yourself shot again, you’ll likely find out. Otherwise, you could be here a spell.”
“Fella in the corner was at Valley Forge with General Washington. Most don’t last a year. Some don’t make it an hour.”
“Anybody ever come back from hell?”
“Not that I’ve seen.”
“How ya even know they got there?”
“Hmm… Have to ask Sal that one, when he’s got a moment.”
As the suppertime crowd shuffled in, Sal was busy filling glasses. The bar was lined three deep with bullet-ridden outlaws. One thing you couldn’t kill was a man’s thirst.
“Say, you got any whores ’round here?” the kid asked.
“Whores go to heaven.”
“Ain’t what churchgoers say.”
“Got some of them here.” I pointed to the neatly dressed folks playing gin rummy in the corner. “Least the outspoken variety.”
While we were chewing the fat, a short fella in a big fancy hat moseyed up beside the newbie. The brim of his Stetson cast a shadow over his face. All that showed was a whiskerless chin and a mouth that wasn’t smiling. He paced back and forth impatiently. The newbie turned to see who was shadowing his backside. Must’ve figured he was the older of the two, because he gave the little fella a mind-your-own-business smirk. The pacer lifted his face, and I recognized him.
Jack looked like he was itching to put a lead plumb in somebody. It had been about a week, so that made sense. He was always taking flashy accessories off those he shot, shiny belt buckles and such. The hat must’ve been a recent acquisition. If it weren’t so big, I’d have recognized him sooner and cleared out as fast as I could. He pushed his duster over his hip real gently, showing a pearl-handled pistol in a greased black leather holster. I inched my stool away and shielded my face. Then, at the last second, the preacher burst through the door shaking his fists in the air all willy-nilly, hollering with the energy of a much younger man.
“I’ve had a premonition from the Lord!” he bellowed. “The end is nigh upon us!”
“The end done happened already, Preach,” Fat Wally snapped back. “That’s why you’re here.”
“A man of great girth will come from the dust, then fire will rain from above!” the preacher roared even louder. “The streets will muddy, and the seed of Satan will be born unto a woman beyond the grave. For that’s how the devil canst reach where the Lord hath delivered us. The hounds will seek to destroy the demon spawn, but the portly pistoleer will protect it!”
“Good one, Preach,” Wally laughed. “A dead gal wearing the bustle wrong—and with the devil’s baby to boot! Now I’ve heard it all.”
“I have seen it!” he hollered fearsomely. “The flying minions will multiply, and Damnation will grow in head and breadth! The light of the Lord will shine upon us all once more. Then weeds will sprout from the
barren dust, but by then it will be too late! Once this domain is fattened like a calf, the evil one will slaughter us all!”
Jack, for one, had heard enough. He doffed his oversized hat and leveled his gun with his winking boyish face. The shot ripped through the side of the preacher’s throat. The old coot gripped the wound and doubled over, then flopped back into a chair, sucking short, quick breaths from the hole as blood gurgled between his fingers. Jack reholstered his weapon, happy to have put a bullet in somebody, and he slowly wandered out of the barroom for a breath of dusty air. The newbie had no idea how close he’d come to getting a lead necktie.
“That preacher fella gonna go to hell?” he asked.
“When he bleeds out,” I answered. “Reckon so.”
“Ain’t there some way of gettin’ outta here, aside from goin’ to hell?” the kid fretted. “Can I get to heaven, mister?”
“Some think so,” I told him. “They reckon if you last a whole year in Damnation without shootin’ no one, the Lord’ll forgive whatever you done.
After twelve months without sin, the gates of heaven open up.”
“Anybody done it?”
“Record’s six months. That fella wasn’t right in the head though. Didn’t leave his room for four of ’em. Came out to tell us all he was Christ. Then the preacher shot ’em in the gut just to prove he wasn’t.”
“You’re tellin’ me there might be a chance a gettin’ to heaven if you don’t shoot nobody for a year, and the only one to try it was some loon who thought he was Christ.”
“Well, truth is I’m fixin’ to give it a go myself,” I told him. “I already got more’n two months under my belt.”
“Is that all?” the kid sneered.
Just then, a gust of wind pushed the swinging doors open, bringing in a cloud of dust. A figure in all black followed the dirty breeze into the barroom. The load of hay on his skull fell to his shoulders. It was combed back real neat like a girl’s, with a gob of pomade. He wasn’t real tall or thick, but looked powerful just the same, like a diamondback whose every muscle is made for striking. Otherwise, you might’ve took him for a tenderfoot with soft hands and fancy clothes.
The men at the bar all hot-footed out of his way. Sal placed a bottle of gin in front of him, then retreated to the far side of the bar. Most folks drank bathtub whiskey or flat beer, but he had himself an educated thirst for the juice of juniper berries. Some of the newer fellas let their eyes linger a little too long, so he hissed like an angry cat.
“What’s that? Some kinda vampire?” the kid asked with a nervous giggle.
“You shittin’ me? They’re real! Thought they couldn’t come out during the day―least that’s what the storybooks say.”
“Can come out at dusk, and it’s always dusk in Damnation.”
“Long as I been here, and that’s nearly fifteen years.”
“That vampire drink folks’ blood?”
“Nah, everybody here’s already dead. Blood’s as cold as a crocodile’s. That’s why he’s so ornery.”
“Can he fly?”
“Leaps real far, almost like flying. Fast as a bugger, too.”
“Any more like him around?”
“Nope, just the one. Musta done something halfway decent to end up here instead of hell. Don’t think he appreciates it much though.”
“Next, you gonna tell me there’s werewolves, too,” he laughed.
“They drink down the road at their own saloon.”
“Does everyone who don’t go to heaven or hell wind up here?”
“Ain’t seen my dead Uncle Joe,” I said. “And he didn’t seem ripe for neither place. Can’t speak for the rest. It’s a small town, though.”
The kid eased back and took a gulp of the coffin varnish that passed for whiskey. Some folks were so relieved they ended up short of hell that they got a little cocky. Reckoned there wasn’t much else to be afraid of.
“Don’t seem like such a bad place,” he said.
“You just gotta watch what you say ’round here,” I warned him. “Folks draw real fast. They get sick of being here. Puts ’em in bad spirits, and they’ll draw if you so much as brush against a fella’s sleeve.”
“Like Dodge City.”
“Worse than that. You risk getting sent to hell every time you leave the rooming house. But it gets more boring than church if you don’t stretch your legs once in a while.”
“Let me get this straight. If you get shot, you go to hell forever. But if you don’t, you can hang out here long as you like, play cards, and maybe have a go at them old churchgoing ladies.”
“That’s about the size of it,” I told him.
“Sounds like you need a sheriff,” he said.
“Keep your voice down!” Sal hollered. “Somebody set this boy straight before Jack hears him and shoots up the whole bar!”
“What’d I say?” the newbie blathered.
“Pipe down!” Sal ordered. “No more of your lollygagging—that is if you’re hoping to last the night.” He stormed off, leaving the kid moping over an empty glass.
“Jack don’t like to hear no talk of… ahem, law enforcement,” I explained.
“Member that short fella in the Stetson who kilt the preacher?”
Dawn in Damnation
by Clark Casey
To be published by Kensington Books on October 31, 2017
Now available for pre-order:
About Clark Casey
Clark Casey is the author of three novellas: The Jesus Fish and Slaughter Bird, Pale Male and the Infertile Girl, and The Perfect Defective. He was born in New York and currently resides in Northern California.
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