This week I’m reading Husk, by D.P. Prior, in which a
bounty hunter “Maresman” arrives in the Old West alien town of Portis on the trail of an outlaw “husk”, or demon, who is apparently responsible for the deaths of at least five people. Hilarity does not ensue.
As you can probably tell from that cover, if not from that little description I wrote, this is a fantasy/SF novel that feels and reads very much like a Western (and I shelved it as such at Goodreads). From a few throwaway lines, I’ve gathered that the action is taking place on an alien world colonized by Earth in the distant past, which would make it a science fantasy novel in the vein of C.S. Friedman’s “Coldfire” trilogy, although Husk has a pretty steep climb ahead of it to reach the level of Friedman’s series, which is one of my all-time favorites.
“The husk that’s in town.” Now it was Jeb’s turn to talk softly. “Saw it on Boss’s land, helping load a wagon with somnificus, if I ain’t very much mistaken.”
It’s pretty clear from what has transpired so far that Jeb in fact is very much mistaken. But I’m sure he’ll find that out. Eventually.
Normally with a Teaser Tuesday I would include a snippet from the book I’m currently working on, Father’s Books, but in keeping with the spirit of science fiction Westerns, I thought I would post a teaser from my short story “Draw”, which is also a science fiction Western. No demons or magic, though. “Draw” appears in the eBook anthology Crossings, edited by Megan Powell, which is still available for purchase; otherwise I would post the entire story. But here’s the beginning, at least!
The hardest part about leaving the horse was finding a spot that wouldn’t kill him.
Shill knew all about the hills surrounding the town of Nugget. If you spent too much time wandering around in them, you left a little bit of yourself behind, usually in the form of falling hair and lost teeth and, if you stuck around long enough, important body parts like feet and hands. So he did his research before ever approaching the region, and when he left his horse behind, it was in a gully to the northwest of town that all his information said was safe. Safe enough, anyway.
There wasn’t much in the way of camouflage up in the hills, but that didn’t worry him much. It was early afternoon, the hottest time of day, and he didn’t think anybody would be coming up this way. Not unless they were crazy from lack of water or extended exposure to Nugget’s toxic surroundings. Besides, the horse could take care of itself.
As he picked his way down the dry, crumbly slope of the gully, Shill moved his hat around to keep the sun out of his eyes. It glared at him from above, a bright spot through an orange haze of dust, like a gigantic hot poker ready to do them all a favor and ram Nugget right down into the core of the planet. Shill paused at the mouth of the defile and shielded his face with his arm to survey the slope below. A couple dozen yards of scraggly, stunted vegetation lay between him and the sharp brown scar that was the parched road into town. The place seemed squashed among the deadly sharp-sided hills, the buildings clustered around a single wide street. The road continued out the other side, shrinking down into a track again, splitting into two, each fork rising into the hills in its own particular direction.
He trudged down the hill to the road. The dry scrub splintered as he bulled through it, scratched at his ankles and shins. His boots raised clouds of powdery earth with every step; these hung in the stillness, slowly settling back to the ground, waiting to coat the clothing of the next traveler. A dry wind kicked up, blowing down out of the mountains to Shill’s back, pushing the dust so it clung to him instead of falling back to the ground. He felt it on the bare skin of his neck and hands, felt the wind sucked the moisture out of him. The air smelled like lightning. He thought of lost hair and teeth and gangrenous body parts.
Gloves. Next time he came to this miserable place, he would bring gloves. And a scarf.
Hell, next time he’d let somebody else come.
Hey, Shill, if you are looking to hire somebody else to hunt bounties for you, Jeb might be interested. Give him a call some time.