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WEIRD WESTERN TALES
Introduction by Wayne Skiver
The Western story has been around practically as long as the Wild West itself. Dime Novels made living legends out of men like Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, and many other such men. Needless to say these stories were often exaggerated so much as to become tall tales, but so popular were the stories that often truth and fiction became so intertwined that many are not sure to this day what is fact and what is fiction.
The Western heroes were popular in the great Pulp magazines, Old-Time Radio Shows, the earliest Television programs, and Movies, too. The gallant Cowboy of the untamed West was a very American take on the classic heroic figure of the Knight Errant. Galloping across the plains smiting evil wherever it was found and rescuing damsels in distress, these "Knights" used six guns as their swords and tin stars as their armor, but were no less noble. Many were even masked mystery men, combining elements of the Pulps and Super Heroes. Characters such as the Lone Ranger are perfect and popular examples of this.
When the Western craze hit the medium of Comic Books it was inevitable that a bit of the fantastic would enter the mythos as well. The Two-Gun Kid fought walking totem poles, Jonah Hex gunned down all kinds of bizarre and supernatural threats, Scalp Hunter too, had his share of foes that could best be described as "super villains." Back in the movies, you suddenly had Billy the Kid fighting Dracula and Cowboys wrangling Dinosaurs in lost valleys. Who could forget the classic TV show, "Wild Wild West" that combined super spy action with the genre? The Wild West got a LOT wilder, anddownright ... weird.
In that same vein we have assembled here, a group of original characters who live in a world where the Old West is touched with elements of Horror and Science Fiction. A world where men come back from the dead, gunslingers travel through time, vampires threaten rancher's daughters, and outlaws fight desperados with kung fu instead of a gun. We've even resurrected a classic Western pulp hero, the Masked Rider, and made his world much darker than it was before.
We've assembled a top notch batch of writers to bring you these fun, two-fisted tales. Each one takes the reigns of the horse and gallops their hero into the unknown with humor, action, terror, and more than a touch of the bizarre. The Knights of Europe fought dragons and monsters, it seems only appropriate that our American Knights of the Plains follow suit!
So now the only thing left to do is dive right in! Saddle up your atomic steed, strap on your six guns and grab your holy water, the West just got a whole lot WEIRDER!
Although it was I who created the raw concepts of the new characters in this volume it was the boundless imagination and talent of the writers that fleshed them out and brought them to life. I am privileged to work with some of the best in the business. My sincere thanks and admiration goes out to the following:
Howard Hopkins: Howard is a master at both the Western genre and the Horror genre. With dozens of published stories in each venue to his credit, I was thrilled when he agreed to write Kid Lobo. Howard writes horror stories under his own name and as plenty of fans know, writes Western stories under the pen name Lance Howard. He is also a member of the illustrious and select group of writers to fall under the pseudonym of Kenneth Robeson and has written the Avenger for Moonstone Publishing.
K.G. McAbee: Is an award-winning Science Fiction writer. I was amazed when she took Sheriff Kronos from my simplistic concept, to a fully realized character as only a true master wordsmith can! She has also written for various pulp anthologies including the Domino Lady from Moonstone.
Bill Carney: The touch of a professional designer shows on any project and we were fortunate to have the talented Mr. Carney take a stack of text and turn it into the beautiful, slick production you hold in your hands. Always use the best!
Keith Howell: Our fantastic cover and title design is the work of Keith Howell, who I'm sure is getting tired of me referring to him as "artist extraordinaire" I can't think of any other title that fits better though! A supremely talented artist and imagineer who always delivers! Keith is a regular artist for FarmerPhile Magazine and illustrated P.J.Farmer's "Pearls from Peoria" collection as well.
Ron Hanna: Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Wild Cat Books. Ron cares first and foremost about one thing, a good story. He created WCB to give a home and creative outlet to just that. In a time when many publishers fail to listen to the readers and fans, thank god for an outlet like WCB! Thanks, Ron, for keeping the good stuff out there. Check out all of Wild Cat's offerings at: www.wildcatbooks.net
Associate Editor, Wild Cat Books
TIN STAR AND FIST!
As fluid and lethal as the rattlesnake, as tough as the armadillo, the savagery and agility of the Bobcat combined with the powerful talons and bravery of the Hawk, mix liberally with the cunning death brought by the Scorpions sting and you have the 5 Animals that make up the deadliest fighter that ever roamed the Weird West! A drifter in search of himself, a man whose fists are deadlier than any gun, for his are:
THE FISTS OF TEXAS
1: Trail Dust
Frank Shane was my Pa, but he wasn't my father. Frank was a cold blooded killer and a thief and he danced at the end of a rope when I was only five years old. He left me as an orphan that nobody wanted. I mean, who wants to take in the seed of an evil bastard like Frank Shane? Let me tell you, nobody, that's who.
Unwanted as I was I found myself on the outskirts of town soon enough, guess they figured I would just wander off and die ... or worse. That's when I met my father, a Chinese railroad worker by the name of Lu Ming.
Now don't go gettin' all teary eyed thinkin' this is some sort of happy ending story I'm about to tell you. Fact is, Lu Ming was a bit of an outlaw himself. He had fled China because he was wanted for being a rebel against the Imperial Court. When he saw me he didn't take me in out of pity, he took me in simply because he valued human life, nothing more. Over time we did grow close as a father and a son but the first few years it was rough. Even after I earned the old man's respect it was rough, hell, that's when it got really rough.
The Chinese, ya see, they have an ancient tradition of martial discipline. They train their body and their mind to act as one, to respect nature and to learn from it. Now that might sound real relaxin' but trust me, it aint. The martial disciplines of China include fighting techniques like nuthin anyone here in the West has ever seen. Old Lu Ming was a master of what he called "Five Animal Fist" When he took me in he started teaching it to me at first out of boredom, and then as I earned his respect, out of something more.
He modified it so's I could unnerstand it better, or so he said. In his land he imitated the movements of the Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Crane, and Snake. With a lot of improvisation and practice he altered it to more "local" critters; The Armadillo, Bobcat, Rattlesnake, Scorpion, and Hawk. He trained me day and night for nigh on sixteen years before he passed on from a bout of small pox. I always thought it was ironic really, here was a cuss who I'd seen shatter stone with his bare hands, who could whup a dozen men twice his size all at once, and in the end he gets killed by a lousy little germ.
I buried him on a quiet hill the way he asked me too. Carved his name in the rock in the writing he had taught me. I have no master save myself now, I travel on my own and try to stay out of trouble, but trouble always seems ta find me. That's exactly the thought that was going through my mind as I looked up from my drink to see the cocky faces of the four men who had gathered around my table. I came into the saloon to wash down some trail dust. Seems the fact that I don't wear a gun draws the attention of all the wrong people. Why can't they jus' leave me alone? They'd live longer if they did.
The tallest of the bunch, a fella dressed in black with a fancy rig on started in first. Somehow he managed to talk while chewing on a toothpick at the same time.
"Way I see it boys is we got one of three things here." He eyed me up and down as he spoke.
"Some poor saddle bum that lost his gun somewhere, a dirt farmer that's too stupid ta know how ta use one, or a boy too afraid to wear one."
The others laughed and waited to see what I would do. I just downed my whisky and reached for the bottle to refill my shot. The tall fella put his hand over the top of my glass.
"Well which is it boy? Bum, dumb ass, or coward?"
The rest of the saloon got real quiet and several folks cleared out. I don't know why every saloon has at least one group that wants to make trouble. This was that group and I reckoned if trouble was what they wanted then I should oblige.
I'm not one ta waste time with words when I can say a lot more in other ways. For instance this fella in black was leanin' forward pretty far. Not balanced at all. My response to his question was to reach across and take his hand that was resting on my glass and make it fit a little better. Slapping down with a snapping force pushed his hand all the way through the shot glass without breaking it, punching a hole out of the middle of his hand like using a can to cut biscuits out of dough. That sure started him to howling something fierce. My own hand ricocheted from the downward slap up into and across his face. I felt his nose break as he flew to the side and hit the floor in front of his buddies. They were gawking so much they didn't even catch him. I slid the table out from between me and them with one movement of my foot but stayed in my chair facing them. They looked at me like I was the devil as I spoke to them in my usual calm way.
"Now the way I see it boys, we got one of three things here. The friends of a guy with a crippled right hand that are about to run away, the friends of a guy with a crippled right hand about to have all their knees broken for takin' a swing at me, or the dead friends of a guy with a crippled right hand who are stupid enough to try an' draw on me."
I stood up and passed my eyes over each one of them as I clenched my fists cracking the knuckles in turn.
"Well which is it boys? Run, get crippled, or expire?"
The one in the middle was fuming mad. He made a move for his gun but he was nowhere near as fast as me. I intercepted his 45 halfway out of the holster and twisted it from his grasp. Then I stomped forward and the heel of my boot connected with his right knee. Knees are funny things, they tend not to enjoy being bent backwards all sudden like. His eyes went so wide I thought they might well fall out as he howled and hit the floor. I tossed his gun away as his friends stared in horror at his leg which was shaped like a quickly swelling letter "L".
It didn't take those last two very long to drag their compadres outta the saloon. The place had cleared out except for one older fella who had watched the whole thing with an appreciative smile. As the troublemakers left the old codger started to clap.
"Most impressive, lad! Most impressive!"
As he clapped I noticed the star pinned to his vest beneath his coat.
2: Tin Star
The old distinguished lookin' lawman came over and motioned to a chair at my table. I nodded.
"Suit yerself, you saw I didn't start that ruckus so's I hope yer not figuring on hauling me in."
The fella laughed a little and adjusted his spectacles. He sure didn't look like any lawman I had ever seen before. When he spoke it was real proper like too.
"No, no, no, my boy! I am indeed an appointed officer of the law but first and foremost I am a man of science! I have a situation in fact, which could use someone of your ... obvious skills. It pays well and its honest work, though there are some ... unusual elements involved. Interested?"
"Keep talkin'." I downed another shot of rotgut.
"Very well then. You see I do not work for any one territory but for the whole of the United States Government. I belong to a special bureau that is used to pursue enemies and agents which are ... let's say, more than a normal lawman can handle."
He paused and looked me over for a reaction.
"You need some tough hombre's ass beat is what your sayin'?"
Again he laughed and adjusted his spectacles.
"Straight to the point, ey? In a nutshell, yes that is exactly what we require. Now, I am a scientist as I have said, and I developed a weapon to use for this purpose but it needs to be tested. I think you are the man to test it!"
"I don't use guns."
"You won't have to. I'll pay you twenty dollars for the day."
Twenty bucks for one days work was too good ta say no too. I took the gray bearded man's hand in a firm grip.
"Professor Cornelius Kettlewell at your service."
We walked from the saloon to the end of town where the blacksmith's shop was. The Perfessor paid the blacksmith to close up early and take off and we wandered to the barn behind his shop. Kettlewell was sure careful about making sure everything was locked behind us too. In the center of the barn stood a big crate covered in a tarp. My new boss fer the day set about removing that and prying the front of it open with a prybar.
"My lad, prepare to meet my life's work!"
I gotta admit there ain't much that surprises me, but when that crate lid was set aside and the packing straw fell away I was about as flabbergasted as I'd ever been! Inside a that box stood some kind of ... metal man. What passed for his face was smooth with no eyes or nothin' and his arms and legs looked like a skeleton's only shiny steel.
The Perfessor used a little key to open a panel on the things chest, a panel that looked just like a star worn by a marshal, and in there was a winder, just like on a clock. He gave it several turns then closed him back up. The thing made a ticking noise and you could hear the gears a-movin' inside. Then I reflexively took up a fightin' stance as it stepped out of the crate! The old guy laughed and motioned that it was alright.
"Nothing to fear my boy! He's a machine you see, a mechanical man that will do as I command. This is what I need you to help me test!"
The metal man's head looked back and forth from its maker to me and with a ticking noise held out its cold hand towards me.
"It can unnerstand us?"
"Yes he can. He cannot speak but he can write. He is programmed to serve the law and uphold it. He can also think on his own, but even if I explained how I doubt you would understand."
I took its hand carefully, as it shook with me I could feel the strength in those metal digits. This critter could bend a horseshoe if'n it wanted to.
"Ok ... so how do I help you test it?"
"Excellent! Unflappable! I knew you were the right man for the task!" He smiled at me.
"Holed up in an abandoned mine about three miles outside of town is an outlaw wanted for the brutal deaths of over forty innocent people. He has killed the last three lawmen sent after him and an entire posse. I do not exaggerate when I tell you he is a monster sir. He is known to have committed several murders in England before fleeing to our country. From what we can tell, even bullets don't seem to stop him."
While the Perfessor was tellin' me about this fella name of Hyde, he was helping the metal man on with some gear. Regular clothes, boots and a hat that I admit made him a little less distractin'. Kettlewell smiled when he was finished and looked us over.
"I believe my machine can handle Mr. Hyde, but this is his first field test. Your unique talents will be handy too, but if he destroys the machine get away from him! No sense in another useless death."
I shook my head at that last part.
"If we're gonna go in tagether I aint about ta leave my partner behind Perfessor. Even if he is made of tin. I reckon I'll just call him Tin Star since he aint got no name by the way."
The metal man looked towards me then, if ya could call that "lookin'". He gave me a thumbs up and in the sawdust on the floor spelled out "Partner".
We saddled up, my strange partner and I, and headed off under the cover of night towards the abandoned mine. Wasn't long before we could smell a cookfire and shortly after we saw the light of it flickering from the mouth of the mine shaft. Tin Star had a little slate board with him and as we stopped to leave the horses he wrote me a message and held it up so's I could read it.
"I'll take the left and approach him first."
I nodded and we went our separate ways, each circling around to either side of the shaft. It had been boarded up for years but all the dry wood had been torn away. Some of it stood about a hunnert yards in front and the moon was full and bright enough ta read it. In scrawled red letters it said "Go Away and live". The way I figger it if this fella jus wanted ta be left alone he shoulda thought a that afore he murdered himself a buncha people. I was also willin' ta bet that weren't no red paint either.
We crept up to our spots and gave each other the "A-Ok". I peeked in and damned if I couldn't see the hombre, but the shadow of him on the wall told me he was a little feller. Still, I'm living proff that what ya see ain't always what ya get. Tin Star grabbed a hold of his left arm with his right and racked it like a shotgun as he started walkin' into the mine. The kind of noise that will make a man sit up and take notice. Our prey heard it too and stepped from the shadows into plain view.
He was a little fella, dirty clothes from living on the run and apectacles not unlike Old Kettlewell. He looked over my metal partner with a look of absolute wonder. He was from England all right, just like the Perfessor said. You could tell it from his high falootin' way of talkin'.
"Oh my word! Exquisite!" He cupped a hand to his ear and listened to the machine ticking .
"Kettlewell actually got that clockwork man of his working I see! Remarkable!"
Tin Star took up his little slate and wrote faster than some men can talk. He held it towards the little man with his right hand and pointed the index finger of his left at him like a kid pretendin' he has a gun.
"You're Coming with me."
This looked like it was going smooth as silk. Sometimes a fella gets tall tales clingin' to him. This fella may have murdered a few people, but he was cooperating fine now. Mebbe he was just tired a runnin'. At any rate I stepped out of my hiding spot and sidled up next to my metal friend.
"Runnin can wear a man down. Theres no need we can't do this peaceful--like is there?"
The frail little guy smiled at me and inclined his head a bit.
"Ah, I do so enjoy the local vernacular. Of course your right my weaponless friend, I do grow weary of being chased. I'll go along with no problems, but first might I take a drink? I'm absolutely parched."
He eyed a flask on a little wooden table beside where he was standin'. I figure the least ya can do for a man whose gonna hang is let him wet his whistle. I looked at my partner who shrugged. I nodded at the Englishman to go ahead. There were no weapons anywhere in sight.
He smiled as if he knew sumthin' we didn't as he picked up the flask and drank from it. Then he set it back down and grinned.
"You do realize I'm going to kill you now, don't you?"
Before I could even say "What?" the little guy started twitchin' and bulgin' and having a terrible fit! His body grew up to twice my own size and his face looked meaner than a bull that's just been branded. Sharp teeth and yellow eyes sat on top of twisted muscle and tattered clothes. As I jumped back so did Tin Star, his slate fell to the ground as he moved but I could still see two words on it: