Half of the short stories in my new collection Byrd’s Luck & Other Stories are “weird westerns”–that is, western stories blended with elements of horror fiction (weird westerns can encompass horror, science fiction, fantasy, and various subgenres thereof, but I tend toward horror).
Now a new anthology is up on Kickstarter, in which I have yet another weird western story. The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny is edited by horror superstar Jonathan Maberry and published by Outland Entertainment. Other authors who have stories included in the book are Josh Malerman, Scott Sigler, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Cullen Bunn, R.S. Belcher, Greg Cox, Laura Anne Gilman, Aaron Rosenberg, Maurice Broaddus, John G. Hartness, Carrie Harris, James A. Moore, Marguerite Reed, C. Edward Sellner, Carrie Harris, and Jennifer Brody! Lots of good friends there, along with a few folks I’ve never met.
My story is “Barnfeather’s Magical Medicine Show and Tent Extravaganza,” and I guarantee it has some surprises in store for any reader.
Just for fun, here are the first few paragraphs:
Barnfeather cleared his throat loudly several times, and the audience quieted. “What you’re about to see is nothing less than a miracle, ladies and gentlemen. A true, honest-to-goodness miracle. I mentioned, I believe, that people far and near call me the Dancin’ Fool, and it’s the gospel truth. I dance. I love to dance. And the reason I love to dance, ladies and gents, is because I can. I couldn’t always—oh, no. My legs were little old things when I was a boy, yellow and thin…like I had chicken blood in my veins! If the wind blew too hard I would topple right over like a stack of snap pea shells. But now I can dance, and so I will. Music, please!”
Musicians somewhere out of sight behind the stage began to play. After a few moments, James realized that to call them musicians was to pervert the meaning of the word beyond all reason, because what they performed sounded more like the noises that might result from a catfight in a henhouse. But a blissful smile settled on Barnfeather’s face, and his feet began to move. They shifted side to side, at first, then one lifted off the wooden stage, came back down with a thump, and the other went up. Within moments he was prancing across the stage, feet tapping and sliding and then pushing him high into the air. He clicked his heels together three times before beginning to descend, and when his black shoes again touched down, he spun around several times.
Watching the performance, James was impressed in spite of himself. Barnfeather looked to be at least fifty years old, his long hair and beard the white of fluffy clouds on a sunny day. An enormous man with a belly so prominent as to be nearly spherical, he had to weigh three hundred pounds or more, but he spun and whirled and flipped like someone half his age and half his weight. And he did it all in perfect time to the music provided by those thankfully off-stage butchers.
When Barnfeather finished, he mopped sweat from his forehead with the back of one pudgy hand, grinned, and gave a deep bow. The audience applauded and cheered, the whistles and shouts so loud that they hurt James’s ears. Unable to resist the enthusiasm, he joined in.
Barnfeather stood there, accepting it for a while, then motioned for quiet. As the audience stilled, Barnfeather seemed to notice something in the air. Then James saw it, and others did as well: a bee, buzzing around the performer. Barnfeather watched it silently for several moments, then reached out toward it, fingers spread as if to pluck it from the air. Finally, his hand darted toward it, fingers closing around it.
But instead of capturing a bee, that hand suddenly held a deck of cards, slightly larger than one would find in a saloon or gambling house. Whoops and cheers and whistles erupted again as Barnfeather fanned the deck out toward the audience members, so they could see the colors, suits, and numbers on the card faces.
“That’s amazing!” Maggie said. “How does he do it?”
“Mirrors,” James said with confidence he didn’t really feel. He had been fully prepared to dislike the man and his show, but he had been won over.
Visit the Kickstarter page here, and be sure to back the book to make sure you get your copy! (Special hint: If you grab the $100 anthology bundle, you’ll get ebook editions of this and all the other anthologies Outland Entertainment has put out, including Neverland’s Library, which includes “A Soul in the Hand,” the first published collaboration between myself and brilliant, award-winning poet, author, and wife extraordinaire Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell!)