Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Trunk Tales

I used to lament that Robert E. Howard had so many tales that weren't finished. They started magically and just left off sometimes at the worst possible spot. Having quite few more tales under my belt these days I understand those unfinished yarns a bit better now as I have a good collection myself. Some I will come back to and finish and sell--like "Tangle Crowned Devil" was a false start to a different Porter tale that I tossed aside-I kept that fragment though, I always keep the fragments, and reworked it for that particular antho. Here's another that I just don't know where or what I want to do with it yet...it is older and predates Cowboys and Aliens by a year or so.

Dog Will Hunt

David J. West

The curtain of night fell and as the pinprick of stars began to pierce, a metallic silver airship reeled downward and disappeared over the range of cactus laden hills. The sound of squealing thunder broke and the tremors of the impact caused cattle to stampede.

Porter assumed the airship to be some contraption folks back east made, but a vile stink on the wind gave him pause. Following the foul reek, Porter pondered what cargo could smell so horrible. But curiosity was stronger than his stomach.

The horse shied from venturing closer and it took all his skills to keep the mount moving. Faint crackles and flickering lights teased on the other side of the hills, and Port once thought he heard metal tearing.

At the top of the last hill, Port’s horse bucked him off, and fled. Cursing the animal, he was astounded by what he saw from the peak.

A deep furrow plowed through the hillside as the airship lay crippled a quarter-mile distant. Green flames illuminated the crash. Porter had never seen anything so large.

He wondered why he heard no cry of pain or fear, no sound of anything living or even dying.

Marveling at the vastness, Porter pondered how such a thing could fly. It appeared to be entirely metal, how could such a thing even get off the ground?

Amidst the stench of noxious fuel he also caught the stink of dead bodies. He pulled out his revolver and stepped inside through a gaping hole.

The constant sparking from wires gave just enough light to see. He looked at the wires hanging limp like roots in a cave and puzzled at their function. Telegraph wires inside an airship? There was a slim amount of writing on the walls here and there, but though Porter was illiterate, he knew it wasn’t English.

Then Port saw the first body.

A hand lay palm up.

It belonged to a man.

Port went to feel for a pulse but saw something had been chewing on him. The mans legs were almost gone.

Flinching backward, Port scanned the gloom. Was the stink of death even stronger now?

In what looked to be a wheel house with curious dials and switches two more men lay dead. Dull black mirrors, cracked and useless were affixed to the walls and Port couldn't understand their use. If this was the wheelhouse, how could a pilot navigate? He couldn't see outside.

Down the shadowy hallway, Port caught sight of a door that had been smashed off its hinges. Looking in, revealed a small room with a cot and privy. Long thick cables embedded in the wall connected to manacles. They had been snapped.

“Son of a bitch escaped.”

Port found over a dozen more dead. Most had been chewed on and a number had been torn apart. Such strength in close quarters seemed impossible, but this airship was unbelievable, why should anything else seem ridiculous?

Traveling back through the wheel house, Port looked again for an atlas or log to grant him a glimpse of a way to better understand this strange airship. He found a slim rectangle that resembled a book. A latch let the thing flip open. Curious characters presented themselves on half while the other side had a dark mirror similar to those on the walls. Port ran his hand across the smooth surface and the blank face fired to life.

A portrait of a man appeared and spoke.

Port nearly dropped the devilish device.

The portrait stumbled in a nonsensical language, that almost sounded like Spanish yet didn’t have any of the familiar words. The voice changed timbre and speech a half-dozen times then finally addressed Port in a serviceable English. “Why are you aboard our ship? Where is my crew? Is the Apophis still contained?”

Porter didn’t answer but pulled a flask of whiskey from his coat and took a long pull.

The portrait waited.

Port looked around the room. “You talking to me?”


Another swallow.

“You must answer me. Where is my crew for the ship you are aboard?”

Port wiped his beard with his sleeve. “Dead.”


“Near as I can tell, they’re all goners.”

“What of the Apophis? Is it still contained?”

“Don’t know what that is, but if you’re asking about the prisoner, he’s escaped. Looks like he took to a bit of cannibalism to boot. Don't worry, we’ll catch him.”

“The Apophis is no man. You should seek shelter as best you can. A recovery team is on its way but it may not get to your world for some time.”

Frowning, Port muttered, “My world? What the hell, you talking ‘bout?”

“You should hide; keep out of sight of the Apophis. My apologies to your world for the destruction it shall wreak.”

“What’s it gonna do?”

“It brings chaos.”

Port squinted at the portrait, “I’ve taken down the worst men from St. Louis to Frisco, ain’t no man I’m a’feared of.”

“Apophis is no man.”

“You tried to contain him like one.”

The portrait snapped, “I warn you, primitive, for your own sake stay out of this.”

The mirror faded to black and Port puzzled at this display. Then he was angered at the portraits dismissal of his skills. If there was a lawman who had taken down more renegades, Port hadn’t heard of them. His reputation was legendary, though vilified by some. But he was usually humble about it too, until he was completely dismissed like that. Now he had something to prove to the haughty foreigner. And the black mirror—this was an invention that left the telegraph in the dust of ages. Men were polite on the telegraph, perhaps the dark mirror made men rude, and that ain’t worth a damn.

Something shambled in the dark.

Port cocked his gun as a shadow grew.


Daron D. Fraley said...

Excellent. You've gotta finish this one.

David J. West said...

Thanks Daron, I plan on it someday-but this is only one of many that are calling.

Chris Okelberry said...

This is a great opening and definitely has potential for a lot of fun. :)

David J. West said...

Much appreciated Chris.

Keith said...

You, sir, are a vile and evil man for posting this without an ending, leaving us hanging like that.

I really like the voice and the way the protagonist reacts to the wonders he sees. You did a great job of not giving him modern understanding of things that are clear to the reader. Well done, and I'm looking forward to the ending.

David J. West said...

Thank you Keith, I was trying to give example of those unfinished tales-though it is my utmost wish to actually finish my stories rather than leave them hanging.

Charles Gramlich said...

Reads very well, man. Great set up. I've got a lot of story fragments sitting around as well. I do on occasion finish them too, when the energy comes flowing from a new direction.

David J. West said...

Thank you Charles, I appreciate that. Sometimes it takes awhile to come back to certain stories.