I never watched Westerns as a kid. Never played cowboys and Indians, never really wanted to ride a horse, never felt the urge to learn to shoot a gun. It wasn’t my wheelhouse. I didn’t watch John Wayne movies or read Wild West adventure stories.
And yet, as a writer in the thirties, I have suddenly been starstruck by the genre known as Weird West. This subgrenre takes the traditional Wild West setting and adds elements of occult, horror, sci-fi, or fantasy. It’s an odd mix, to be sure, but something about the desert whispers secrets to me and wants me to tell stories of mysteries and strange happenings on the open range.
Ghost towns, gold mines, wild coyotes, steam trains, gunslingers, bandits – it all spells adventure.
And so I’ve dug up some short pieces I’ve written in a fictional town that I like to call Hellsgate, NM. Here’s the first piece, which was originally published on my blog 3 years ago and which, edited and re-worked, was published on 101words.org. Here’s the newest iteration:
Daryl “Deadeye” Wilcox died on March 23, 1903, at 1:27 p.m. At about 3:00 that same afternoon, he took his usual stool at The Jackson tavern and ordered himself a white whiskey. The messy hole blown through his chest made drinking a little bit difficult, but Shoeleather, the weathered old barkeep, was more than used to this kind of incident. He toweled up the spilled liquid and offered the ugly, soaked rag to Wilcox. Daryl nodded his thanks to the barkeep, stuffed the whiskey-soaked towel firmly into his wound, and ordered up another drink. This time, he asked for a double.
These things happen sometimes in the town of Hellsgate, New Mexico. The dead don’t always stay dead, the living don’t usually stay living, night and day never are too reliable, and folks who hear or see strange things most likely have the right of it. The massive pit outside of town leads straight to Hades, after all, so mind your horses and watch where you’re stepping. And don’t mind the howling of the damned at night – you get used to it.
Welcome to Hellsgate.