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A Tale of the Weird West
by DeAnna Knippling
One little girl. Buffalo-demons stampede out of the earth to steal one little half-blood girl, and everything changes. Aloysius’s little brother Jerome goes missing with her–two inseparable kids whose friendship is damned from the beginning–as demons replace the newly dead.
A priest with a tainted Bible. A brother with a taste for blood and demon flesh. A fool with a passion for the machinery of Hell. Only Aloysius and his brothers can see the transformation–and there’s not a damned thing they can do about it. Then Jerome returns: he has found a way down into the demons’ Hell, where they twist the little girl’s tortured dreams into a paradise of their own, a place to escape the demons who, in turn, haunt them.
Because this is a novel, I’m putting up the first chapter…
Buffalo County, South Dakota, 1960
Jerome stared up at Celeste Marie on the top of the pile of dirt outside the church in Gray Hill. She was standing with her hand shading her eyes from the sun, and the wind was blowing her shining black hair. They were both just kids—fifth graders—but someday, he was going to marry her, and there would be problems.
“Look,” she said.
“Over there.” She pointed at something on the other side of the hill.
Jerome climbed to the top of the hill beside her. His feet sank into the loose dirt, dried to a crust on top with wet clay just underneath. They were running water from the new well to the church, and there were trenches and pits in the ground all over the place.
Jerome shaded his eyes and squinted, but it was no good. He’d left his hat inside the church, and he couldn’t go after it or his father or somebody would remember it was time to go home and sit at the long table for dinner and say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” and “may I go now?” Yet his blue eyes were no good in the sun.
“What is it?” he asked.
“A demon.” She stood on tiptoe, grabbed his arm.
“There’s no such thing as demons. It’s a bull.”
“It’s not a bull. Too many horns. Oh!” The dirt shifted from underneath her, and she slid down the hill. She tried to grab his arm but lost hold.
The dirt shifted under Jerome, too, and he tried to both stop himself from falling and grab Celeste Marie at the same time. All of a sudden, he knew they were in danger. It wasn’t a question of looking back later and wondering if he had known; he knew.
“Run!” he shouted.
The dirt shifted again and he went down on hands and knees, sliding to the bottom. He pushed backward from the dirt hill and got to his feet. The ditch where the pipes were going to be buried was between him and Celeste Marie.
Celeste was standing up again and staring into space. “Look at them run!”
That damned girl. He carefully checked the ground, then jumped over the ditch and pulled her by the back of her shirt. “Come on, Celeste Marie.”
The dirt hill was starting to fall down like a milkshake being sucked up from underneath. Jerome pulled Celeste Marie away from the hill, toward the cemetery. Not that the cemetery was important; that’s just where the one safe direction was, for the moment.
He didn’t run, and he didn’t do any more shouting. He led Celeste Marie among the graves to the big statue of Jesus kneeling. They’d be safer back there, out of sight.
“We have to go back,” Celeste Marie said.
“We have to get in the back of Peggy’s pickup truck and have her drive us out of here before the demons check the graveyard.”
Jerome sighed—she couldn’t have said something two minutes ago?—and led her back toward the church’s gravel parking lot, stopping behind his sister Peggy’s pickup truck so they couldn’t be seen. He peeked through the dirty window toward the church. The hill was a hole in the ground now. Jerome shaded his eyes and saw something moving underneath.
From the front of the church, Mr. Blackthorn hollered, “Celeste Marie!”
Celeste Marie jerked like she’d just got woken up and started to take a breath. Jerome slapped a hand over her mouth.
From the dirt hole, something grunted.
Jerome murmured in her ear, “I ain’t ready to get killed yet, are you?”
Celeste Marie shook her head.
“Let’s pretend we didn’t hear your dad.”
Celeste Marie grinned around his hand. Her sweat smelled like bread, and he could feel her big front teeth under his fingers. He let her go.
“Okay,” she said. “But only for a little while. Until the demons are gone. They’re right over there.” She stepped out from behind the truck to point into the wheat field with her brown stick arm.
Jerome jerked her back behind the pickup truck. “You got to be better at hiding than that.”
Celeste Marie giggled as Jerome peeked from behind the back of the truck. Sure enough, the field was scattered with black dots running toward them, whatever they were.
Jerome coughed as an evil smell got up his nose and stung his eyes. Something grunted behind him. When he turned around to see what it was, he saw that he was face-to-face with something big, black, and ugly. Celeste Marie stared up at it as it reached for her.
Jerome dragged Celeste Marie out of the way and around the truck. Big Ugly was naked and hairy, with four curling horns and a big snout, and he walked on two legs. He followed them for a second, then doubled back around with his hands outspread, waiting to see which way they would go.
Jerome pushed Celeste Marie into the side of the pickup truck, grabbed her legs, and lifted her up. She bent at the waist and toppled into the truck, protesting: “This is a terrible place to hide.”
Jerome put his boot on the tire and boosted himself up behind her while the black thing circled toward them. There was a tarp in the back of the truck, held down with the cans of green paint and linseed oil they were using to paint the roof. Jerome pulled the tarp over Celeste Marie, in case it happened to do any good, picked up a gallon can of linseed oil, and swung it, hard.
If it hadn’t hit the demon, it would have smashed the back window of Peggy’s pickup truck, and then he would have been in trouble. But the full can hit the demon with a thump and bounced back. Jerome let the weight of the can carry it over his shoulder; then he swung the can over his head. The thing bellowed as the can cracked one of his horns.
“Celeste Marie!” Mr. Blackthorn shouted again. He sounded cross and impatient. He probably wanted her to go inside to help dust the pews or clean fingerprints off the windows or something.
“Coming!” Celeste Marie shouted. She struggled under the tarp and pushed it back.
Big Ugly was touching his horn and shaking his giant, shaggy head. He started to grab for Jerome, but Jerome swung the can again, and it knocked the demon’s muscled, hairy arm aside. Big Ugly growled and reached for him again.
Celeste Marie screamed. Her tiny body threw the heavy tarp out of the pickup truck and into Big Ugly’s face; then she pummeled the thing with the meat of her fists. “Leave him alone!”
Jerome would have laughed at how angry she sounded and how futile it was for her weak arms to pound at the demon if the demon hadn’t been big enough to pull her out of the truck bed and throw her to the moon.
“Celeste? Celeste Marie!” Mr. Blackthorn’s shouting sounded far, far away. Jerome shoved Celeste Marie out of the way.
The demon roared and the smell got worse; it was as bad as rotten Christmas oranges in July or Easter eggs in August.
Celeste said, “So that’s how you do it.” Jerome looked down; she had one of the cans of paint open and waiting. As far as he could tell, she’d used her bare hands to open it with. She picked up the can and held it carefully by the handle.
The moment Big Ugly stripped off the tarp, she hurled green paint into his eyes. The paint splattered the demon and splashed back over their church clothes.
“Hah!” Celeste Marie said. Then she shrieked as another one of the demons caught her from behind, right around her waist.
Big Ugly bellowed as Jerome leapt from the truck bed toward the second demon. He missed, as he knew he would, and landed on his knees. He got up and ran after the thing, which was running with Celeste Marie toward the dirt hole.
Jerome had a metal fence post in his hands; he didn’t know where he’d got it from, probably from the back of the truck. His arms didn’t want to move right, it was so heavy. He swung and missed. He swung again and hit the demon, right in the back, but the demon didn’t stop. The post was too heavy to swing again, so he charged with it, slamming it hard into the demon’s back, right at the spine.
The demon stumbled, dropping Celeste Marie and leaping over her, then skidding into the ground. Jerome followed and hit him again with the post, at the bottom of his neck this time. The post slid along its neck and got stuck in the crack between the top of his neck and the bottom of his head.
The demon went down on its knees. Celeste Marie kicked the demon with her sandals, and Jerome jerked the post out and swung hard, hitting the demon in the back of the head.
The metal post anchor got stuck in the thing’s head, and Jerome wasn’t strong enough to jerk it out this time. He screamed with the need to hurry.
Then someone was pulling him backward. He kicked and twisted but couldn’t escape. The next thing he knew, he was inside his sister Peggy’s truck with Peggy on one side and Celeste Marie on the other. He almost slid off the seat into the dashboard as the truck whirled out of the parking lot.
Celeste Marie stared at him up and down, hanging onto his arms with her tiny hands. “You’re green.”
Jerome looked around. Peggy was driving them down the gravel road away from church, which was surrounded by demons.
There was smoke.