Coming soon to Kindle Vella is my newest (and only) weird Western, Judge Shivers. I hope you have as much fun reading this one as I did writing it. This story defies genre classification--I labeled it as weird Western because that's as close as I could come to defining it.
Here is a preview of Episode One: Mall Walking Dead
I clocked a measured pace across wet asphalt. Not slow, not fast. My boot heels tick-tocked in four-four time, a solitary march at a funereal tempo. I tried composing a ditty to go with it, something like
I’m off to kill the wizard, a beardless wizard with flaws
Because, because, because, because, because
The horrible things he does.
The song didn’t work for the mood or the tempo. I needed something dark and broody, not skippy and frolicky. I have been told it is in bad taste to be frivolous about the ways to kill somebody, no matter how much they need killing, and the Zen of my mission focus denied me a single frolic or skip.
It was time to be grim. As in reaper.
Cold rain spattered drizzly wetness on and off. Trash stuck to the wet pavement, stirred by the rain-swollen breeze.
From a few blocks eastward, stadium lights bloomed yellow fog over rooftops, and an announcer’s voice echoed: “Marcus Attleboro for a two-yard gain. Williams on the stop.” High school football night in suburban Ohio pricked my heart with a sensation something like nostalgia as memories flickered of a different life in a distant place . I recalled scuffed helmets gleaming under the bright lights, the clack of plastic pads, the smell of sweat and grass and popcorn and Gatorade.
To the west, yellow luminescence painted the underbelly of black clouds. Lights from the distant Columbus. Or was it Cincinnati? Cleveland?
An aircraft ascended into the night sky, red flashers marking its passage into the low-hanging clouds. The rumble of its passing faded.
I paused at the fence and peered through the dripping links. The building inside the enclosure was once a shopping mall, now defunct, a derelict assembly of blocky sections with papered-over glass doors. A ghost image of old lettering on the buff-colored wall read “Dillard’s.”
For an evil wizard steeped in power and the cosmos at his fingertips, this guy’s lair needed a makeover. Queer Eye for the Mage Guy. But come to think of it, it was Ohio. How many mist-shrouded towers or brooding castles could there be? A Magical had to make do with the lairs available, and one named Dustin? Seriously? Surprised he wasn’t holed up in a Chuck E Cheese.
Six days after driving in from Montana, there I was. In Columbus, definitely Columbus, delivering a FedEx package of whoop-ass on Dustin Birnbaum, Crazy Conjurer, Misfit Magus, Curse of Columbus.
I had tailed him here, to this mall, a couple of days in a row. It wasn’t hard—the guy traveled via skateboard. Skateboard. Seriously, what’s next? Dragons on bicycles? Vampires on pogo sticks?
“A freakazoid up to some strange shit,” Jurgens had said.
By itself, being a freakazoid up to any kind of shit would not warrant execution under the laws of the Codex Magica. Only if a Judge investigated and found just cause that said strange behavior harmed innocent civilians or called undue attention to the use of magic—and yes, that last bit is ambiguous as hell, ain’t it?—and said judge became convinced beyond a reasonable doubt (or a close approximation of reasonable doubt), then said freakazoid could be designated thereafter as persona non breathing and rendered habeas corpus and meatus deadius. Amen and pass the ammo.
And as it turned out, this freakazoid really was up to some strange shit, shit strange as pastel turds. Twisted enough to earn an unfavorable judgment and scary enough to warrant a death sentence, even after applying my relatively high bar. Now all I had to do was stalk Birnbaum into his ugly-excuse-for-an-evil-wizard lair and zap him before the young knothead could up and commit even more crazy shit, thereby endangering innocent Columbians. Columbusites?
The chain-link fence wasn’t much of a deterrent, as proven by the tagger decorations coloring the mall in spray-painted immortality: AQ, TAZ13, some Jackson Pollock scribbles as indecipherable as a doctor’s handwriting. I could scout around a couple of miles of fence and find how the taggers got in or climb it, juggling a backpack and stabbing the toes of my cowboy boots in the gaps. But why bother? Having magic meant doing cool stuff in a mysterious and mystical way.
With a concentrated effort, I tapped my magic and focused on the fence, removing the heat from a section of links about head-high and shoulder-wide—all the heat. Frost formed with a crackle, and the links iced over, frozen at the atomic level. A swift kick of a size-ten boot, and the metal shattered in a cascade of glittering shards. Voila! A gate!
I stepped through the gap, careful not to snag my black shearling coat. A breath of chill air brushed my cheeks, and a flurry of snow swirled around my legs. Every fourth parking lot light was on, so I walked through long pools of darkness cut by fuzzy globes of misty light.
At the Dillard’s entrance, I tapped magic again and slagged the locking bolt on the exterior vestibule door. Ditto the interior door.
And I was in.
“Follow the yellow brick road,” I sang, sotto voce. “Kill a magical toad.”