Buddy Baker is a dead man. Literally. After gunning down more men than Billy the Kid-and being hung by a rope necktie for his crimes-the jolly, fast-drawing fugitive reckoned he'd earned himself a nonstop ticket to hell. Instead, he finds himself in Damnation: a gun-slinging ghost town located somewhere between heaven and hell.
There are no laws in Damnation. Only two simple rules: If you get shot, you go directly to hell. If you stay alive without shooting anyone for one year, you just might get into heaven.
Hardened outlaws pass the time in the saloon playing poker and wagering on who will get sent to hell next, while trying not to anger the town's reclusive vampire or the quarrelsome werewolves. Buddy winds up in everyone's crosshairs after swearing to protect a pretty gal who arrives in Damnation pregnant. Her child might end up a warm-blooded meal for the supernatural residents, or it could be a demon spawn on a mission to destroy them all.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
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"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, 'cause 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?"
When he had first come to town some ten years earlier, Jack Finney was the measliest pipsqueak who'd ever darkened the doorstep of the Foggy Dew saloon. He needed a boost to get on a barstool. Hadn't made it all but two steps into the room before the betting began on how long he'd last — and nobody wagered a dime past suppertime.
Back then, the quickest gun in town was a sheriff from Lexington, Kentucky, named Jeremiah. He was a good old boy with a righteous streak. He might've taken a few bribes when he was alive, but he kept the peace and went to church every Sunday. He'd been the sort to give everyone a fair shake till they crossed the line, but the way he had met his end changed all that. He was scouting for rustlers, and a couple of two-bit thieves dressed as priests got the drop on him. They gut-shot him and stole his horse and guns, leaving him to die in the woods. It wasn't the bullet wound that did him in, though. They only shot him with a .22, but the pain kept him from walking. Couldn't even crawl to a creek for water. He went four days without anything to eat or drink. He was so parched his tongue blew up as big as a bullfrog's, and he began seeing things that weren't there. Reckoned it best to end his suffering while he could still think clearly. Didn't have no knife, so he widened his wound with his fingertips, trying to bleed out faster. Eventually his heart gave out. After he arrived in Damnation, the stretched-out bullet hole in his belly didn't mend properly, so bits of food and whiskey sometimes leaked out when he laughed. He claimed the spillage was the reason why he was always so damn hungry and thirsty.
Jeremiah wasn't officially appointed sheriff of Damnation. He just happened to be wearing a star when he died. Then he shot a mess of people right away, so folks quickly deferred to him. His suspicious nature wasn't helped any by having been gunned down by phony clergymen. He didn't like to go at anyone head-on who hadn't been tested. He preferred to see them show their stuff against someone else first.
Even someone as scrawny as Jack needed to be tested, and Jeremiah watched him closely as the boys bullied him. It gave them no small joy to hear the kid squeal. Just a few hours after he arrived, a Comanchero who had only been in town a couple of weeks stepped to Jack. He was a half-Mexican bandito who had made his living by stealing goods and livestock from gringos and trading them with Indians. His occupation had cost him an eye at some point, and he wore a black patch over the empty socket. The crosshatch scars on his cheeks and forearms attested to the many knife fights he'd managed to survive. He still had a sneaky way about him, always lurking in the shadows, ready to slit a throat. Now, he stared Jack down with the one good eye.
"My boots could use a shine, boy," he announced. Jack looked around the room, hoping someone'd laugh to let him know it was just a joke, but nobody said a word. "Well, don't just stand there," the Comanchero yelled. "Get down and give 'em a shine!" Jack slowly bent before the dirty boots. They were covered in blood and shit and dribbles of piss, then caked in so much dust you couldn't tell what color they were.
"Give 'em a spit shine!" the Comanchero ordered. Jack's eyes grew tearful. He puckered his mouth to offer a gob of spit, and sure enough the boot crashed into his face. The whole room erupted in laughter. Jack rolled over on the floor, moaning and wishing he'd never died. A ribbon of blood leaked from his lip over his chin.
Jeremiah had been keeping a keen eye on the Comanchero ever since he'd arrived. Didn't trust a man who traded with Indians. The one-eyed bandito had already knifed a couple of fellas over card games. Nobody'd seen him shoot yet though, so there was no way of knowing how fast he was. He carried a greased Schofield revolver, which split in the middle so you could load all six chambers at once instead of one at a time, like the older Colts. It was a soldier's weapon, good for extended battle, but he seemed to prefer slashing throats by surprise. Jeremiah reckoned this would be a good chance to find out if his pistol work was as worrisome as his knife play.
"You don't gotta take no more ribbing today," Jeremiah told the boy as he tended to his lip. "Long as you outdraw somebody. And since Cyclops here is so keen on you, might as well be him. Winner gets free drinks and grub for the rest of the day."
The Comanchero glared at Jeremiah, but it was difficult for him to express himself properly with just the one eye. "In the land of the blind," he said solemnly, "the one-eyed man is king." Then he turned and headed outside.
"Well, shit ... Good thing we ain't all blind!" Jeremiah laughed and shoved Jack toward the door.
Mostly out of boredom, ten or fifteen men wandered out in front of the saloon. The sky was always an ashen yellow, no brighter than dusk. The clouds never lifted but streaks of orange and violet broke through in spots. It was pretty, only it never changed. I reckoned the living were so keen on sunsets because they didn't last. Even the prettiest lady in the world would get tiresome if you were stuck staring at her for eternity — especially if there was no chance of giving her a poke.
Most of the fellas didn't consider the gunfight worth vacating a stool, particularly if you had a good one near the fire. Most newbies didn't last their first week, and a skinny teenager like Jack didn't inspire any wagering. As a matter of duty, I went out to document his getting sent to hell. They stood in the center of the road as we lined the rotted-out boardwalk. Sal handed Jack an old Colt and a single bullet. The weight of the gun nearly caused him to drop it.
"Is that all I get?" Jack's voice cracked in disbelief. "Just one bullet!"
"Jeremiah don't want you gettin' no ideas. This way, if you take a shot at him, one of his men'll get you for sure."
"But what if I miss?" It was a fair question. The scared hand of the newbie could easily empty a six-shooter before hitting his target.
"Then I suppose the half-breed can take his sweet time returning fire," Sal answered.
They lined up back to back. Jack's head didn't reach the Comanchero's shoulder blade. On Jeremiah's mark, they each began marching in opposite directions. At the count of ten, they both turned. Jack's slight frame made him more nimble. His hips swiveled squarely in place, slightly ahead of the bandito's. He proved to have naturally quick hands, although they trembled with the weight of the giant Colt. His itty-bitty finger struggled to squeeze the rusty trigger. The bandito caught up with the steady arm of a practiced killer. The missing eye was a big disadvantage. He had to wait until he was fully turned around to take proper aim. Jack managed to get off a lucky shot, but it only winged the bandito's right arm. As he gripped the wound, tar-black blood spilled between his fingers, and the gun slipped from his hand.
Excerpted from "Dawn in Damnation"
Copyright © 2017 Clark Casey.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Book source ~ NetGalley Many men and a few women get sent to Damnation when they die. Sort of like a Purgatory, if you've done bad and good then your actions in Damnation can determine where you finally end up: the good place or the bad. There are two rules to "live" by: get shot, go to hell or not shoot anyone for a year and don't get injured bad enough to die (again) and you should end up in Heaven. That's the theory anyway. No one has ever gone a year without shooting anyone or dying again, so there's only that slim hope to hang onto. Everyone needs a little bit of hope, right? Damnation is one strange place. It's perpetually grey, but something weird has been happening to the sky. Ever since a dead lady showed up pregnant with a live baby things have gotten very interesting. Outlaw Buddy Baker takes a shine to her and protects her against the others. Everyone passes time by drinking and playing cards. Gambling is about the only way to make money in Damnation though they are a few other occupations. Sal who owns the bar, the blacksmith who makes the bullets, and Tom, the guy who writes the weekly paper, The Crapper make money in other ways, but really the only source of income is cards and you better be good or you don't eat or drink. Not that you can starve to death in Damnation, but it helps keep the boredom at bay. Dawn in Damnation has an interesting concept with decent writing and colorful characters. If you're looking for something a bit different to read then I recommend picking up this one. I don't think you'll regret it.
Well this was just a heck of a lot of fun. "Damnation," is a lot like what the Christian church-goers might refer to as "Purgatory" - that place in-between the land of the living and either heaven or hell. But with a twist. Those arriving in Damnation have a past that's checkered with some foul deed or another and it's pretty well-assumed that those who move on from Damnation will only go in one direction. But those arriving in Damnation, which resembles an old west cowpoke town, don't have to leave. If they can stay 'alive' they remain in Damnation. But get killed a second time and it's out-of-town for the poor soul. Our story is told primarily from the point of view of a man whose stayed out of trouble since arriving and even started his own Damn newspaper, keeping the residents apprised of the comings and goings of all the other residents. Just in case the purgatory of the afterlife isn't supernatural enough for the reader, Damnation also has its vampire residents and some werewolves who invade the town from time to time. The vamps and the wolves are just as subjected to being 'killed' and moving on to their final destination as the humans. I was expecting something a little more ... cheesy, I think. Something that was more along the lines of spoof or farce, but instead we actually get a good mash-up of two unlikely genres - the western and the paranormal. There wasn't anything here too serious, but the story was strong enough to capture my attention and to hold my interest. What Damnation is, or was, was nicely, slowly revealed, though there are still some questions about the place and why people arrive or don't and where they go afterward. I had fun in Damnation and I'm hoping there will be more stories there to take me back. Looking for a good book? Dawn in Damnation by Clark Casey is an entertaining read and a nice blend of paranormal/fantasy and old-fashioned western. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.