Now Available: Two Skulls

TWO SKULLS

FANTASY/HORROR

CLINT WESTGARD

 

Mejk the Unharnessed is a spirit walker, who can traverse the lands of the dead and bind the souls there. Chosen by his people to restore them to greatness, he will take any risk to claim the dead in the Untamed Lands.

Harni the Cleaved travels with Mejk, his guide and protector. She will stay at his side, no matter how arrogant he might be, for her people have chosen her as well. More than Mejk, she understands just how forgiving the Untamed Lands are.

Neither of them is prepared for what they will face when they come across an ancient skull. Mejk will find himself facing a greater power than he knew existed, while Harni tries to defend him against impossible odds.

In a world where the living and the dead offer no quarter, Mejk and Harni will be pushed to their utter limits just to survive.

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Excerpt: Two Skulls

In advance of the publication of Two Skulls on February 1, here is a short excerpt:

The bones had been bleached dry by the sun and were a gleaming white amidst a sea of green grass that stretched on for miles in any direction. The sun glimmered off them, catching the eye of Harni the Cleaved, one of two riders making their way across the plain. She brought her horse to an abrupt halt, wordlessly pointing at the distant speck of white. The other rider, Mejk the Unharnessed, grunted in response and they both turned their horses toward the bones.

They came across the rest of the body in their search for the skull—a femur here, a rib there—the body obviously having been torn apart by whatever carrion hunters inhabited these parts. Mejk was forced to dismount from his horse to find the skull, which was hidden beneath an especially thick swirl of the lengthy grass. He knelt on the ground, picking it up gingerly to study it, while Harni kept her eyes watchful upon the horizon.

The skull was whole and unbroken, except for a small hole at its base where an arrow had obviously struck and killed the warrior. Mejk turned it over in his hands, counting the teeth and looking at the form of the skull with a skeptical eye. Harni interrupted his study with a grunt.

Be quick,” she said. “Someone’s approaching.”

You know this can’t be rushed,” Mejk said, not taking his eyes from the skull.

It may have to be,” Harni said.

Hearing the urgency in her voice, Mejk looked up from the skull and cast his eyes along the horizon. “Who is it?”

Who else,” was her whispered reply.

Who else indeed. These were the Untamed Lands, which no one had claim to. But that would not stop some of the Great Tribes from doing so, especially to two warriors from the Fastarl traveling far from their lands. These plains had once been theirs in more glorious times, but that was many lifetimes ago, long before Harni or Mejk had come of age. Now the Fastarl lived upon the winds, forced to survive on their wits and at the sufferance of the Great Tribes, never to have a true home.

All that could change if Mejk was successful here . For the Untamed Lands were littered with the dead, many of them Fastarl, murdered in those dark days when the Great Tribes had driven them from their lands. And Mejk was a spirit walker. He could walk with the dead, could claim them from those places where their spirits were banished. Continue reading

Now Available: Those Macabre Nights

THOSE MACABRE NIGHTS

FANTASY AND HORROR

CLINT WESTGARD

A man is cursed and awakens with horns upon his head. A woman, in search of the origins of a gruesome folktale, discovers that parts of it are all too true. Two men, separated by over a century, find they are inextricably connected by a contract signed and a terrible debt owed.

These, and other, stories explore the ways in which we are haunted—by ghosts and creatures even more inexplicable—and the ways in which we haunt ourselves. For there is no escape on Those Macabre Nights.

A terrifying and thought provoking collection of stories that will keep you up all night.

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Excerpt: Hart’s Crossing

In advance of the publication of Hart’s Crossing on November 23, here is a short excerpt:

I don’t recall the exact details of my return to Hart’s Crossing. It was after the accident, that much is certain, but beyond that nothing is. My memory is troubled, whether from that incident, or some other that followed. This uncertainty worries me, on the occasions when my thoughts drift to those days, though I try not to allow them to. That is a futile struggle when I find myself unable to leave Hart’s Crossing. So much of the past is still alive for me in this place, for it cannot die.

Hart’s Crossing was once my home, a place where I loved and was loved in return, but no longer. Now it is my prison, a place where it seems I am doomed to remain for all the time that is left to me, embittered against my captors and hated and feared by them in equal measure. Such a cruel twist of fate that it should come to this end, after such a beautiful beginning. I cannot account for it, but then my memory, since the accident, is not what it was.

My days now are spent hiding from those I once welcomed with laughter and delight. I lurk in the bedrooms when everyone else is downstairs taking their meals, or whiling away an evening at cards. Only at night, when they are asleep, do I dare to descend, stalking the parlor and the kitchen like a cat after a mouse. Sometimes the floors creak at my passage, or I brush against some book sending it to the floor, announcing my presence for all to hear. In those moments I flee to the cellar or the attic, if I am able, and remain until they leave me in peace.

But there can be little solace here for me. No longer. Why do I remain then? It is hard for me to explain, but I shall try. Continue reading

Excerpt: The Contract

In advance of the publication of The Contract on October 19, here is a short excerpt:

 

From the personal diary of Inspector Archibald Constant Cumberland, June 7, 1886:

Fort McGregor, I am proud to record here, has been firmly established. I have already written my report to that effect and it is on its way to Superintendent Perry at Fort Macleod. We finished construction two days ago, and the men who were brought to help in the building have been sent on their way, along with my report. Only ten men now remain: myself, the eight constables, and the commissioned doctor, John Cabbot.

All of them are good men, in my judgment, an absolute necessity, for we are far from help out here on these lonely plains. Four of them fought alongside me in Riel Rebellion, so I know they are battletested. Doctor Cabbot is newly commissioned, but he was trained at McGill and seems a competent man. He was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, and tells me he spent some time in Deadwood and some other of the wilder environs of the American plains, so he understands well what our circumstances will be.

The other four constables are new recruits I chose from the latest batch to arrive from Ontario. I had some time training with them in Fort Macleod, with Superintendent Perry granting me my choice of the new crop, and I am confident I have selected the finest among them.

Our purpose is to keep the peace between the Indians of this region, members of the Blackfoot and Cree Nations, and the whiskey traders who have lately come into this territory, having been chased from the Cypress Hills and the Fort Macleod. After the troubles that have consumed the territories in these last years, culminating in Riel’s second revolt, the Superintendent is taking no chances. The last Commissioner of the Mounted Police was replaced for his failures around the rebellion and the new Commissioner wants to see no such mistakes repeated. We are to be on guard for any such troubles that might arise.

The fort itself is located at the confluence of the South Saskatchewan and the Red Deer rivers, a largely desolate section of the Northwest Territories. It is, as yet, uninhabited, except for the aforementioned Indian nations and the whiskey traders. The nearest forts are Calgary to the west and Battleford to the east. There are a few settlements to the north and east, but to the west and south there is nothing but ranching land.

The Blackfoot and the Cree are to be confined to their reserves, as per the terms of the treaty they signed, but the Blackfoot have lately been ignoring those terms, the result of the failures of the agent assigned to them by the government. His name is Harold Groves, and he is a singularly useless man. The Indians do not trust him. I can only hope they will come to place their trust in my men and in me.


Continue reading

Excerpt: The Debt

In advance of the publication of The Debt on September 21, here is a short excerpt:

MY NAME IS Daniel Archibald Cumberland. It may be familiar to those of you who studied Canadian history some years ago. I graduated with a PhD, published a number of articles in leading journals and was hard at work on turning my dissertation into a book. I took a postdoc in Saskatoon and made sure to attend all the conferences and gatherings I could, hoping to secure an academic posting somewhere. It was during those years my life began to go astray.

My work focused on western Canadian history and was typical of the academy at the time. Those of you familiar with Canadian history departments and all their various touchstones will know where my work derived from. And it was derivative, of this I can assure you. Though many told me I was doing bold, cutting edge work, I now can see that this was far from the case. My work was no more remarkable than any hundred other students who worked in the history departments across the country. We all added something to the conversation in our narrow domains, but we only echoed what others had said about history in other places.

I was part of a chorus, while certain that I was singing lead. Yet I understood on some fundamental level that what I was doing was of no consequence to anyone. A pervading sense of dissatisfaction led me to be arrogant and dismissive of anyone I perceived as having anything halfway original to say. I would pick apart their arguments and find flaws in minutiae. How could they have managed the trick of saying something, when I had not, the unvoiced part of my consciousness would ask.

By and large I ignored these doubts and carried on with my work, desperate to be elevated into the academy. What I hoped to do there, I couldn’t say. It was my goal, in and of itself. Life beyond that had no shape or hue.

All that changed when I went to do some research in a lost little corner of southeastern Alberta. Though my work was about the rural working class, I had spent little time among them. Still, I was convinced that I understood the overarching structures that shaped their minds, even as I dismissed those that constrained my own. I am embarrassed now to think of how great a fool I was, in so many ways. Continue reading

The Falkenbourg Place

There were several hired men who passed through the Faulkenbourg Place in the following years. None of them stayed for long, though none admitted to feeling any odd sensations while living in the house. It was the nature of job that there would be so much overturn, at least that was what David’s father told him. At the same time the farm prospered and, along with the rest of their neighbors, their family had money to spend. They put electricity and plumbing in the house not long after, removing the last vestiges of its homesteader roots.

What truly marked the passage of time though was the worsening of his mother’s condition. There was the day when she ceased to rise to see he and Eric off in the morning, the day when his father started to make their suppers after he came in from work, the day when she could no longer walk without help, and, worst of all, the day when he had to keep score in their nightly game of gin rummy. Though it was never said by anyone, David understand that these were the way stations on the path to oblivion, that his mother was dying, as Albert Faulkenbourg had died, as the steers did when they were sent to market in the fall.

Death did not seem a strange occurrence to him, not when he was surrounded by it daily. He assisted in killing the hens and pigs when the time came each year and had spent many an afternoon watching hawks lazily circling the sky above a tractor as it moved through the field, stirring up the mice and voles below. This, he understood, was a different kind of death, a momentous one, the others merely profane. It wasn’t the fact of the death that told him this, dying seemed much the same regardless of who or what was doing it, it was everyone else’s reactions to it.

Visitors that came to the farm, even the various hired men, would speak in hushed tones or with a forced joviality when his mother was about, her condition obvious at a glance. They would not meet her eyes and then stare at her when they thought she wasn’t looking. David suspected she noticed it all, though she never said. His father, taciturn by nature, turned ever more inward as his mother’s condition worsened, some days speaking no more than a dozen words. Eric, too, retreated within himself, passing his hours at home in his room, not even spending time with David. He was hurt by this change in his brother, for in their younger days they had been inseparable.

Unlike the others, David was drawn to his mother, spending as much time as he could with her. He became the one who unfailingly helped her around the house as that became more difficult. He found reasons to be near her, to touch her, crawling into her lap to sit, though she found such contact painful in her condition. His father would yell at him to leave her be when he would see him sitting in her arms and he would slink away, only to return later as soon as his father had gone away. The smell of her fascinated him, musty and rank, as though an unseen decay had already begun within her. As the end neared and she spent more and more time in bed, neither sleeping nor truly awake, David would secrete himself in the hall outside her bedroom and stay for hours listening to her labored breathing.

He was fourteen when death granted her the peace life had not. Just as her illness had changed and reordered the cosmos of the farm, so her passing did again. His father withdrew ever more inward, working blindly in the fields, and in the evenings retreating to his office or to shop, where he would tinker mindlessly on some project or another. It fell to Eric to take care of them, once the neighboring wives stopped bringing over meals they had prepared, getting David up in the morning for school, helping him with his lunch and making supper for them when they got home. It was a role he resented for the burden it placed upon him, and yet fiercely protected whenever David would try to care for himself.

For his part, David felt lost in this new world, so he avoided both his father and brother as much as he could. He would wander among the three rows of trees, evergreens and caraganas, which divided the farm from the road, playing in imagined realms in the shade of the branches. Days when he knew the farm hand was out working or in town, he would take his bike and ride the mile to the Faulkenbourg Place, sitting in one of the rooms on the floor, staring off into nothing. In those long hours he felt it speak to him, its soundless reverberations echoing through the center of his being.

Even as he turned fifteen and started high school, a time when he knew he should have moved beyond these childish things, he continued to venture to the house, its very presence reassuring him. One Sunday, with his father and brother having retreated into their respective worlds and the farm hand gone home for the weekend, he went over to pass the dreary afternoon. He stayed for hours, losing track of time, watching the sun move through the sky by the changing light coming through the windows. Though he knew he should leave, that the farm hand would be returning soon, he could not bring himself to stir from his reverie, until he heard the truck wheels on the driveway.

In an instant he was on his feet, sweat on his forehead and panic in his mind. He stayed frozen for a moment, unsure of what to do, knowing only that he couldn’t go out the front door without being seen. The windows were no good either. He would need time to get their screens off and their being open would be evidence enough of his presence. Had he been a little older and a little more confident he might have met Grant at the door with an apology and some excuse – no butter in the house – which he would likely have accepted without question.

Unable to think of anything else, he fled to the bathroom, climbing into the tub and ducking down so that his head did not peek over the side. This proved to be a poor hiding place, for after the long drive from Bonneyville, the first thing the farm hand did was go to the bathroom. He had his fly unzipped before he noticed David.

“Goddamn Christ,” he said with a jump. For a terrifying moment David thought he was going to hit him. Instead he walked out without saying another word. David could hear him on the phone to his father. He stayed where he was, letting the disaster continue to unfold, knowing that Grant was on the other side of the door if he tried to leave.

In a few minutes he heard another truck pulling into the yard and the front door opening, the screen door clanging against the side of the house. No words passed between the two men and then his father was there, looming above where he lay crouched miserably in the tub. His father leaned down and cuffed him hard on the ear, the other side of his head hitting sharply against the tub. Without needing to be told David got up and followed him out, past Grant whose eyes he could not meet, and then home, neither of them speaking.

from Smeagol Blues

Available in the collection On the Far Horizon

Now Available: Smeagol Blues

Smeagol Blues scaled

For as long as he can remember, growing up on the Canadian prairies, David has been drawn to the house. Called the Faulkenbourg Place by the locals after the Swede who had homesteaded the quarter, it is an unremarkable, ramshackle thing, worn by too many harsh seasons on the prairies. David’s curiosity will lead him to an investigation of the strange history of one of its inhabitants, Louie Glazer, a man who had disappeared without a trace thirty years before. Despite these  and other ominous signs he remains in its thrall, a power beyond his reckoning, that will lead him to an act of betrayal and a startling discovery as to the nature the nature of the place itself.

A short story by Clint Westgard
Available at Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords