Sometimes, when evil dies, it doesnt stay dead.Six outlaws, barely a day ahead of their pursuers, find shelter in a freshly deserted New Mexico town. With no water, and one of them gravely wounded, they realize too late theyre trapped inside the lifeless town.
As they soon discover the grisly truth behind the disappearance of the townsfolk, the outlaws find themselves hunted by something far worse than anything theyve faced yet - an unspeakable evil that seemingly cannot be killed. When the malevolent creature targets them in turn, the previously tight-knit group begin unraveling past the breaking point. Thinking it to be a Strigoi Morti, a monstrosity that can only be harmed while feeding on the living, the surviving few are faced with an agonizing choice. Who will they sacrifice so the others may live?
Spine-chilling, poignant, and action-packed, Iron Dogs is an instant classic for Horror and Western fans everywhere.
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|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)|
About the Author
Neil Chase holds a PhD in electrical engineering and has won over fifty screenplay and short story awards. Happily married with two amazing daughters, Neil lives in Edmonton, Canada. Iron Dogs is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."
Cole Masters hated the dark. Always had. But he hated closed spaces even more. They made him think of Jed.
When he was nine, he helped his pa and older brother dig a root cellar out back of their stead on the Texas Gulf Plains. By all accounts, his father was a decent enough blacksmith, but the lack of work drove him to take on other professions throughout the state that were ill-suited to him. His old man was a poor fisherman when they lived on the coast, and an even worse farmer when they moved west after his mother's death.
So they dug wrong. Cole couldn't recall exactly why the hole was dug wrong. Holes are holes, and he'd dug his fair share since, never with much of a problem. But this one was wrong. Maybe the dirt was too sandy, or the pit too deep, or the beams his father put in weren't strong enough. Whatever the cause, the walls caved in on them. His pa was barely in when it happened, and so was spared the worst, but Cole and Jed were right in the thick of it.
It all happened so damn fast. One moment they were setting spades to dirt, and the next, they were fighting for breath in a vice of clay. Cole remembered his pa yelling something, but it was too muffled to make out. His own panic wouldn't have let him hear anyway, so it didn't really matter. He tried to run, to move, to escape, but couldn't. He was bound tightly as if by rope. Some rational part of him wondered if this was what a caterpillar felt like before it sprouted wings. Some larger part supposed it more like what a mummy felt being sealed in its tomb forever.
By some miracle, two beams crossed over his head when they fell, stopping inches from his scalp, and creating a pocket of air. It wasn't much, but it was enough to keep the ground from his nose and throat. Soon, though, Cole felt the world recede as what little air he had was quickly used up. All he could taste was soil, and as his consciousness slipped away, he imagined his lungs filling with the stuff. And though the dirt filled his ears, Cole could have sworn he heard Jed calling out to him at that moment.
"Don't give in," his older brother said in a voice so hollow it was barely a whisper.
Cole knew there was no way he could have heard those words nor that Jed could have spoken them, and yet it kept him going for a few precious seconds. Cole's pa dug for what seemed like hours to the trapped boy. In truth, it couldn't have been more than five minutes before he took hold of Cole's leg and yanked him out. But Lord, it felt like an eternity.
The moment Cole was free and coughing up dirty phlegm like his lungs were on fire, his pa set to finding Jed. Cole tried to get to his feet to help, but his legs wouldn't listen. All he could do was watch through coughing fits and tear-filled eyes as his father desperately labored to find his other son. His older brother was a strapping lad. Though only sixteen, he was already as tall and broad in shoulder as his pa, and strong as an ox. But Jed didn't have fallen beams to protect him from the crushing weight, or provide him with extra minutes of air. He was in the dirt too long.
In the months after the simple funeral, Cole often thought of Jed's last moments. He wondered if his brother was as scared as he had been, if he felt as helpless and trapped, and if he spent those last few moments of breathless life in pain. He hoped not, though he knew better, as he recalled the burn in his own lungs just before his father's strong hands grasped his left leg by the ankle. It wasn't painless. It was agony, and a most horrible way to pass on. And he remembered thinking bitterly, why did they bother pulling Jed out of the dirt in the first place if all they did was put him right back in?
They left that dirt farm soon after. The crops never came in as well as they hoped, and the constant reminder of the tragedy made it too unbearable for the old man. He took to drinking after Jed's funeral, and the two of them spent most days in uneasy silence.
One day, Cole came back from tending the fields to find his pa hitching a wagon with all their meager belongings tied up in back. The broken man looked like he'd been crying, but neither he nor Cole acknowledged the fact. Without a word, Cole threw down the rusty hoe he carried and climbed aboard. They left without a single look back.
The two of them roamed from town to town for a spell, taking on whatever work needed doing. When they came to Laredo, on the Texas-Mexican border, his pa once again tried his hand at smithing. The town was big enough that there was call for such work, so a man of skills could survive, and even prosper. It went well enough, at least when his father was sober, and Cole learned the trade, at first as a striker, and then as a full apprentice. By the time he was eleven, he could work the forge, hammer with confidence, and bend the metal with a skill that came naturally. As time passed, he did more and more of the work while his pa slept off one bottle after another in the corner of the smithy. By the time he was fifteen, the old man had drunk himself into an early grave, leaving Cole to fend for himself. But while folks had faith enough in his work passed off as his father's, they became more apprehensive when it was his alone.
He often wondered how he would have fared had the War Between The States not erupted soon after. The call went out for men and burly lads who could pass for such, and so he again left his home for the unknown. With his skill at the forge, he soon found himself tied to the Cavalry, making shoes for horses and fixing metal parts on the battlefield when not trading pot-shots with Yankees. He distinguished himself in battle, and earned a spot at his commander's side. Yet through it all, he never forgot about Jed, or how he felt every time the world began to close in around him.
Since that terrible day some twenty years earlier, Cole swore he'd never find himself in that position again. Even now, as he fought every urge in his bones to bolt for freedom, a sliver of a smile found him as he recalled all the times that oath was broken. Hell, in the war alone, he spent countless days in ditches and holes, in cellars and graves, under logs and bridges, and crawl spaces a dog wouldn't enter, always fighting the urge to flee.
And once in particular during that war, a moment so dreadful, he could not, would not, recall it. Especially now. Not in the blackness surrounding him. Not with musty, stale air filling his lungs. Not with the world pressing in on him.
He would get out. He always had before. And each time he felt the open breeze on his face and basked in the warmth of the sun, he swore anew, certain he'd break that vow once more. So here he was again, in the closed, damnable dark, with his heart in his throat and the cold sweat on his brow and the pounding silence in his ears, fighting a losing battle with his own senses and biding his time until he could taste free air.
Only he realized with equal parts relief and foreboding it wasn't his heart in his ears that was pounding. No, that sound came from somewhere else, and it was getting louder by the second.CHAPTER 2
"Neither love nor evil conquers all, but evil cheats more."
— Laurell K. Hamilton, Cerulean Sins
The thunder of hooves broke the tranquil silence of the western Texas plains, as ten black-clad riders charged over a rise at full gallop. At the head, Max Clayburne cursed the heavens for making Texas in the first place. He hated everything about this godforsaken place, from the unbearable summer heat to the dusty emptiness to the ill-bred morons who sparsely populated it. But duty was duty, and his was to track down his prey.
Being a proud Yankee from Illinois, few felt he was up to the task he now undertook. What's more, his Northern accent and attire often marked him for a dandy in these parts, though no man had teeth enough left in his mouth to call him the name twice. He could hardly wait to get this job over with and head back to civilization. Max growled in delight as he spotted something on the grassy horizon. "There!" he shouted, pointing dead ahead.
A lone man stood under a withered tree in the otherwise empty distance. With a Stetson low on his bowed head and a long, ragged overcoat down to his ankles, his back was to the riders. Beside him lay his horse, dead. The fool looked to be saying a prayer over the fallen animal, though Max wondered if the prayer was for the animal or the fool.
Speaking of which, Max didn't know which imbecile in particular it was. Probably one of the greenhorns Hollister took on recently, left behind to fend for himself after his horse died on him from exhaustion or a broken leg. The others would have had more sense than to stand out in the open.
Max knew the man could hear them coming, and yet he stood planted with his back to them like a damned coward, more than likely counting on their Yankee pride from shooting a man in the back. The notion made him laugh. "Got you, you bastard," he chuckled under his breath, as the men at his sides drew their guns and spurred their horses.
Without any order given, they all opened fire on the lone man as they got into range. Clumps of dirt and rock detonated all around him, but he didn't so much as flinch. Too scared to move, Max thought, savoring the moment. He drew his Colt Army revolver, the same one he used at Gettysburg ten years ago to the month, and brought it to bear straight ahead. With the black-clad riders bearing down, the lone man still didn't move, as bullets whizzed by dangerously close. Max afforded a smile, the solitary, gutless coward in his sights.
He fired. A clean hit ruptured in the center of the man's back. He lurched forward, some hidden strength keeping him upright. Max's smile turned to a snarl as he emptied three more rounds from his weapon. His men followed suit, firing wildly. Bullets riddled the man's back as the riders thundered ahead, almost on top of him. To Max's relief, the coward finally fell forward, face down into the hard-packed dirt.
The riders whooped and laughed as they came to a halt just feet from the body, a few still firing off a shot or two into the corpse. "Abner," Max said, nodding to the bushy-bearded rider in the bowler hat on his left.
Abner dismounted, and hurried to the body. Max had to know which of them it was, if for no other reason than the size of the bounty that the Railroad offered on each man's head. But it didn't really matter. He'd get each one of them by month's end, and he would be a rich man. That much he knew for certain.
Abner kicked over the body. The pleasure in his eyes turned to indignant surprise, as what stared back at him was a straw-filled dummy with sticks for legs stuck into a pair of boots. He started to turn, a warning to his comrades almost out, when —
A shot echoed from off to one side. Abner's neck exploded in a rain of blood from under his great beard.
From a foxhole dug into the dirt behind the horse's body, Cole Masters pounced up, lean and fierce, a smoking Colt Peacemaker in hand. Recognizing his dark features at once, Max tried to shout an order. But before any of the riders had a chance to react, five more men popped up from a circle of hidden bunkers surrounding them, guns blazing.
Five of the riders were gunned down before Abner's body hit the ground. With time coming to a virtual standstill, Max took in the carnage with an almost detached curiosity. He was at once stunned and horrified, recognizing the men on the ground from the pictures and descriptions he'd long since committed to memory.
Through the pandemonium, he saw chief among them Frank Hollister, their ironbound leader, giving a rebel yell and firing his Colt Navy with abandon. He was easy to spot, from the aristocratic features of his weathered face captured on posters from here to Virginia, to the dusty remnants of a Texas Confederate Cavalry Major's jacket that he refused to surrender at Appomattox. Not to mention the infamous ice-blue eyes cited as Hollister's most striking and fear-inducing feature. Those piercing eyes found new targets now and the hate in them was unmistakable.
Next to Hollister stood his Sergeant in the war, Jesper "Red" Coogan, the ginger-bearded maniac of the bunch, notorious for his savagery and lack of Christian mercy. He was worth almost as much as his leader, and might even surpass him if his body count kept growing. Max prayed he would be able to put a stop to that tally as he watched Red empty his Winchester into one of his men, a crazed grin on the murderer's haggard face.
Virgil Morgan, the renowned stoic gentleman bandit, dressed in vest and tie, with slick-backed hair and thick, waxed moustache stood nearest Cole, choosing his shots with a care that belied his compatriots. Some detached part of Max bitterly considered how ungentlemanly it was to gun men down in an ambush without giving them a sporting chance. Yet the irony of his own actions with the dummy just a minute before was completely lost on him.
As if in direct contrast to Virgil, across the way stood Billy Cross, a baby-faced inbred hillbilly with greasy raven hair and filthy clothes, who was little more than a child in the War of Secession. He fired twin Remingtons wildly into the riders, and whooped and hollered with each shot, adding to the confused horror of the moment.
And last of them, the Russian trapper, whose name eluded Max for a moment. Then he saw the grey-bearded man in animal skins use his Smith & Wesson Model 3 with deadly precision on the man to his immediate right. Larianov, that was it; though the man's Christian name still eluded him. Rumored to be a Cossack who skinned his prey and ate his kills. It was this thought that brought Max back to the here and now, and spurred him to action. As the murderous barrage cut into the black-clad agents from all sides, he swore not to end up on the menu this day.
In the confusion of gunfire and panicked men and horses, Max and the remaining riders tried to return fire, but most of their ammunition was already spent from shooting at the straw dummy. One rider's empty click was met by a sinister grin from Red Coogan as he gunned the man down in cold blood. As his comrade fell, Max spurred on his horse, damned if he was going to be killed by the likes of the Hollister Gang.
As the horse snorted, panicked white foam already escaping its muzzle, Max charged straight ahead at Frank Hollister. The outlaw dove out of the way with half an inch to spare, getting off a lucky shot in return as Max raced by.
Max barely felt the puncture in his back. More like a bee sting, he decided, and wondered why he was always so afraid it would hurt more. Despite the lack of pain, his body didn't want to stay on the horse any more, and his hands didn't listen to his mind's orders to hold fast onto the reins. He fell to the hard earth as his horse raced out of the circle of death. Crashing to the ground with a thud, Max was sure he broke something, but the dulled pain kept him from feeling the majority of it. Unable to move, but able to see everything unfold, he bore mute witness to what came next.
One of his men tried to shoot his way out. He grazed young Billy's leg before taking three hits to the chest as the boy and the Russian cut into him, Billy screaming in anger. While that happened, Max felt his fingers tingle back to life, and spied his gun only inches from his outstretched hand. He clawed it off the ground, as the last of his men did what he could not.
The rider broke free, staying low and charging his horse out of the circle, stampeding off in a full gallop. Cole Masters turned, training his sights on the rider, but in doing so, left himself exposed to Max's raised gun. At least I'll have one of you, Max thought bitterly, cocking his pistol.
In the instant that Max and Cole each pulled their triggers, Virgil Morgan threw himself into Cole. Max cursed as they tumbled to the ground. He tried again, but his gun was finally dry. A single moment of elation washed over him then as he saw that Cole's shot had also missed its mark. Shooting from the ground underneath Virgil's prone form, Cole fired again at the departing rider, but it was useless. The man was too far away for a revolver.
Ride, you bastard, ride, Max thought, satisfied that his remaining ally would get help. If he could hang on till reinforcements came, he might still make it out of this in one piece. Then he heard Hollister give a single order. "Ivan." With deadly efficiency, the Cossack holstered his Model 3 revolver, and unslung a Sharps rifle off his back. No, screamed the voice inside Max's head. The rider seemed impossibly far away, as Ivan took careful aim. There's no way, Max thought frantically, praying for the Russian to miss.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Iron Dogs"
Copyright © 2018 Neil Chase.
Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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