Now Available: The Adventures of Holly Amos

THE ADVENTURES OF HOLLY AMOS

A WESTERN

CLINT WESTGARD

Holly Amos is on the run from a payroll heist gone south. With Morris Danforth at her side, trouble has always been what she’s been searching for. But lately Morris has been more trouble than he’s worth, and Holly is thinking it’s time for a change. But with the law after them, things are about to take a turn for the worse.

Clive Hestin is the lawman on her trail. He is a Northwest Mounted Police constable, banished to a lawless frontier town for refusing to look the other way on the crimes of his fellow officers. Now he has to track down Holly and Morris or risk being drummed out of the force forever. Nothing will stop him from seeing justice done. Nothing except, perhaps, Holly Amos.

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Now Available: On The Far Horizon

ON THE FAR HORIZON

WESTERN, CRIME, THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

Cattle rustlers on the run, caught between a storm and someone bent on revenge. Cowboys pursued by the law and their own demons through a long night. A dive bar in the middle of nowhere hosts five criminals for a deal that goes terribly wrong.

These and other stories explore the lives of those who populate the west. Homesteaders with mysterious pasts they’d prefer to keep hidden. Women wronged by the men they love and caught up in events beyond their control. There are killers, thieves, cops on the make, and people just trying to get through their days with their eyes On The Far Horizon.

All of these characters, and many others, meet in this pulse-pounding collection that will keep you at edge of your seat.

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Excerpt: The Horns

In advance of the publication of The Horns on July 20, here is a short excerpt:

In the year 1625 of Our Lord, in Cartagena, that magnificent and redoubtable coastal fort in the Viceroyalty of Peru, Don Santiago Alvarez de Armias awoke one day to discover horns upon his head. They were long and narrow, curving slightly upward from his forehead, not unlike an goat’s. Or a demon’s, as his servants and slaves whispered to each other upon seeing it. Most of them fled his house in the days that followed, for they had a premonition of the trials that awaited him.

These began, if there is such a thing as beginnings and endings, the day prior, when Don Santiago met some acquaintances on the streets beyond the Plaza de los Coches, where he had come from looking at some slaves on offer at the market. The full heat of the day was upon them and they elected to retire to a nearby tavern to take some sustenance there. One of the men, a notorious cocksman named Armando Gonzago, told the other men a salacious tale of his latest conquest, who he had been with that very morning while Don Santiago was at the slave market. So tempestuous was their lovemaking, Armando claimed, that they broke the baluster on the bed. All three men laughed at the thought of the poor cuckold who would return home to a broken bed and his wife’s poor excuses. Which he would no doubt believe, for Armando noted he had been so oblivious to this point that he did not suspect anything was amiss.

The three men finished their oruja and said their goodbyes. Don Santiago went about the rest of his day, giving little thought to Armando’s tale. It was evening by the time he returned home. As he let one of his servants wash his face with a damp towel, his wife called out to him that he would need to see to the repair of their marriage bed, whose baluster had somehow become broken.

Don Santiago went still at her words. “How did it become broken?” he said.

I only noticed it this afternoon,” she said, as though that were an explanation.

As if in a dream, Don Santiago recalled other instances of her evasions from his questions, other times when she had offered no explanation for strange incidents and absences. An incredible anger began to build inside him. His whole body seemed to tremble, as though assailed by a tempest. Words failed him.

When he recovered himself somewhat he strode into the bedroom to investigate and saw that, indeed, the baluster had been snapped in half. He strove to peer through the dim mists of his memory to that very morning when he had risen from bed. How had the baluster appeared then? Solid and whole, just as the frame itself. Now here it lay upon the floor, as broken as his trust in everything his wife told him.

Don Santiago called her into the room, demanding that she explain herself.

I don’t know. It was fine this morning, but when I came in this afternoon I found it so. Perhaps,” and here she lowered her voice, so that only he could hear, “the servants were about where they should not have been.”

Don Santiago stared at her, numb and cold, all emotion having fled. He turned to look at the mestizo boy who attended him when he was at home, but the boy would not meet his gaze. A terrible shudder overcame him, as though a spirit had passed across his grave. He bent down to seize the offending piece of wood and turned back to his wife, who studied him with a bemused expression on her face.

His rage returned to him, overwhelming, coursing through his veins like a torrential river. He struck his wife with what remained of the baluster, knocking her stunned to the floor. A trickle of blood ran from her head down between her eyes. Blow after blow he rained down upon her, until she lay upon the floor in an ever-growing pool of blood.

Servants were screaming, footsteps sounding throughout the rest of the house. Don Santiago could not hear them over the thunder of the pulse in his ears. His head ached and he felt exhilarated beyond belief. He looked from his wife to the mestizo boy who remained standing, his lips quivering wordlessly, too afraid to move lest he draw his master’s ire.

The baluster was still in his hand and he tossed it to the floor beside his wife, gesturing to the boy. He would not come, still staring in mute horror.

Here boy,” Don Santiago said, “listen. Go summon the Alcalde quick.”

The servant would still not move and Don Santiago had to drag him from the room to send him on his way. When the boy was on gone, he turned back into the bedroom trying to gather what remained of his thoughts. The Alcalde would need clear evidence that his had been a righteous fury, justified by his wife making him a fool and a cuckold. As he pondered this, he looked upon the broken form of his wife and saw her mouth opening and closing oddly, as though she had lost all command of it. Her body writhed on the floor, as if she were in the throes of an awful ecstasy.

One of the other servants tried to come tend to her, but Don Santiago chased her away with the baluster, forbidding anyone else coming near in a voice that sounded tinged with madness. He sealed the door to their chambers and crouched beside his wife. As he stared into her dying eyes, he tried to think of something to say, a fitting closure to their lives together and her utter betrayal of his honor. But his wife surprised him by speaking before he could.

I curse you, Don Santiago Alvarez de Armias, a feckless lover and inattentive husband, for all time. You will never rest easy again.”

With those words she died, before Don Santiago could summon a response. He remained crouched at her side, her curse reverberating in his ears. Though she had perished, he could have sworn he felt her hand upon his head and he leapt back from her in horror, falling to the floor at the edge of the bed. It was in this position that the Alcalde discovered him.

After, as he prepared for bed, Don Santiago would think that the strange moment—the seeming possession of his wife by an enraged spirit—had been fortuitous in the end. The Alcalde had arrived and witnessed the whole bizarre scene, with Don Santiago’s expression one of fear and madness. It was all of a piece with his claim, that he had been seized by an inordinate anger, a rage beyond all meaning, at his realization his wife had so utterly betrayed him.

He had answered the Alcalde’s questions, the notary scrawling his answers, as someone saw to the removal of the body. His servants cleaned the room as best they could and, when the Alcalde was done with his interview, everyone left him alone in the bedroom. Don Santiago stared at the bloodstained floor and his bloody clothes for a time, before snuffing out the candles and going to bed. The darkness seemed to swim around him, alive and sinister, before he at last drifted off to sleep.

The Horns is now available for preorder:
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In A Flash: The Conquistadors

“The world’s a simple place, once you understand it. People will talk of Our Lord—and they’re right to. Make no mistake, we are His chosen. They’ll talk of humility and kindness and justness. All the things they think we should be. But in the end, what matters is who can take what. Remember that. If you can take something—take it. Because rest assured, you’ll be a fool to think someone else won’t.”

The man speaking these words wore a finely tailored doublet, though a close inspection would reveal it was worn and faded, as were the rest of his clothes. His name was Don Luis Farajo, and he led his companion—a ladino youth named Juan—along a winding trail that passed through villages with names he did not know.

“Now that’s something your kind just don’t understand. Oh, you listen to all the priests have to tell you, I’ve no doubt. How else did you learn our tongue, after all? But you take it all on faith. You trust. Damned fools, the lot of you. Look at Atahualpa with Pizarro. He had no intention of keeping his word. None. Yet the whole empire was lost because an emperor did not understand the fundamental rule of the world. Takers always take. And always will. Mark my words.”

Juan did not answer Don Luis, his eyes on the trail ahead. It was early morning, the sun still climbing above the mountains which towered around them. They had started off before dawn from the inn they had spent the night in, passing men and women carrying goods for the day’s market down the steep paths they were climbing. It was exhausting work and Juan chewed coca leaves to ward off his appetite, though Don Luis scoffed at his habit, calling it uncivilized.

Don Luis had opinions on all matters, which he was never shy to share with anyone who happened to be at hand. Especially Juan, who he seemed to view as a child who he had a solemn duty to properly educate in the ways of the world. This despite the fact Juan could speak Spanish as well as any Peninsular, having been taught by the Dominican friars he served in Pisac. Of the two of them it was Juan who had the rudiments of his letters, though the ladino never dared mention that to Don Luis.

“See, now pay mind to these people,” Don Luis said, gesturing at the family that was making its way down the hill, their backs heavy with baskets filled with alpaca wool clothes. “They have not done a thing different than their fathers or their father’s fathers in all their lives. Wake up and walk down to the valley. Spend the day at market and then go back up. Now, you at least have started your education. Those friars taught you a thing or two.

“But so many men—even Spaniards, by God—can’t be bothered to do more than what their fathers did. And what do you think they accomplished? Nothing. No, I will not be like them. Not me. I’ve seen to that. Come across to this New World and these godforsaken villages. But we won’t be idling here long, will we Juan?”

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

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In A Flash: The Chronicle

Thunder rumbled overhead as the Ges arrived at the athenaeum, cowls pulled over their heads. They proceeded in single file toward the entrance, submitting themselves to the inspection of the gatekeeper, passing one by one within these walls. Their faces were severe and expressionless, as though this was a duty to be endured. They gathered, once they had all passed within, and spoke in low tones with one of the Keepers as to what they required, before she set out to lead them through the broad, circling halls. To me.

I watched all this with some trepidation on one of the looking glasses the athenaeum possessed. Their grim faces unsettled me. I knew why they were here, of course. Had known they were coming from the moment of my creation. It was my reason for being. Few are blessed with a clear purpose to their existence. Now that the moment had arrived it felt more a curse.

The Ges were brought to me—I watching their progression through the hallways—and the Keeper bowed to me and to the them. “Here it is. You may question it for as long as you wish. For the rest of your lives, if that is what you desire. But it is not to leave this place. And I must be present throughout.”

The leader of the Ges, or the one I presumed was their leader, nodded and stepped forward. He had the grimmest face of all, marked by the scars of some disease he had survived in childhood. He looked me over, with what I took to be disdain, as though he found me wanting.

“I would ask you some questions,” the leader of the Ges said in a hesitant voice, unsure how to proceed.

“I will answer as best I can,” I said.

He nodded, but still did not speak. At last he smiled. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve grown up seeing statues of you at the center of all our cities. It’s odd to be conversing with you. I feel like I should pay you obeisance.”

“I am not her,” I reminded him. “I am her chronicle, nothing more.”

“You seem more than that.”

I shrugged. “Even so.”

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

If you like this story, or any of my others, please consider supporting me on Patreon

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In A Flash: Gambler’s Fallacy

The ripple of the cards upon the table, the shifting of everyone upon their chairs, the thumbing of glasses and clothes, the shuffle of money and hands: Burgess can hear it all. His eyes are closed and there is thunder in his mind, but he can hear it all. The air is redolent with the stench of rotgut whiskey, sweat and the wood burning in the stove they are all huddled near to keep out the winter cold.

Burgess opens his eyes at the sound of the door opening and sees Pederson returning within from the outhouse. A gust of frigid air makes them all tremble. Pederson takes off his coat, his breath still staining the air in clouds around his head. Everyone watches as he returns to the table and picks up the deck.

“Sorry boys,” he says with a smile. “Where were we? Five card draw?”

There are grunts of assent and the cards go out. Burgess does not touch his until they are all dealt, his eyes intent upon Pederson’s hands. His face feels hot in spite of the chill in the room, and his gaze goes blurry and then steady with each blink of his eyes. There is the sound of the ocean in his ears as someone stands to refill the glasses and someone else asks a question about Maggie Garneau. He thinks about saying something witty, but decides not.

The cards are dealt and he looks at them. Trip fives. He looks around the table. Everyone is looking at their cards. The bet comes to him and he throws in five dollars.

“Spending all your winter funds,” Pederson says, not glancing up from his cards.

Burgess bristles. “We’ll see where I stand at the end of the night.”

“You’ll be standing because you’ll have nowhere to sit again.”

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

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In A Flash: Voyage’s End

A ship, alight upon the sea, surging upon the waves as it’s crew stands watch, eyes straining forward, alert to the horizon. This was the image that came to her mind as Ance whiled away the interminable hours in this desolate place. A ship coming to take her home.

She had long ago stopped counting the days, it had grown too depressing by far. No matter how many she marked off her calendar or in her diaries, the remainder still loomed ahead, the weight of them the same, as backbreaking as the work of the porters who carry her belongings up and down the mountains of this cruel and barbaric place. Her greatest fear was that her husband would arrive at one of their homes, on one of his occasional acknowledgments that they were in fact married, to announce that the Viceroy had extended his term and they would be remaining for another five years.

It was a thought beyond bearing. Every day she was surrounded by hundreds of people, most of whom could not speak more than a civilized word or two to her. Their disdain was evident in every gesture they made, in every expression when they thought she was not paying attention. They were doing things to her food as well, she was certain. She always felt weak and ill, though perhaps that was just the abominable climate, so frigid and damp.

One day, as she spent another afternoon lost in pointless reverie, it came to her that it did no good to idly dream of such things, she needed to make chance bend to her will and act. Her husband spent most of his days pretending she did not exist, it could be easily done. She called her porters and had them gather her belongings and set off from her home in the misty highlands.

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

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Fiction: Sketches at the Inquisition

The Monster was born, far from the vast and glowing Metropolis, in the Hills where only the odd light flickered in the distance, beacons for the weary traveller, too long tossed about by the tempests of the road. According to reports, he had no hair upon his head, and his ears were jagged, almost reptilian, and close to the skull. A single eye glared out savagely from his forehead, slightly off-center, and his expression seemed to rest in something resembling a tortured grimace.

Upon hearing of this occurrence that suggested so many tantalizing questions for one who had read Cuvier and Lamark, the Inquisitor decided to make his way to the Hills to discover where the Monster lived. Up until his leaving the Inquisitor had led an uneventful, somewhat distinguished, career running a cabinet in one of the deeply boweled buildings at the academy. His main innovation had been the slight modification of Cuvier’s structural classifications of some fauna. As he had noted in a talk given at one of the academy’s annual open air plenary sessions, this suggested some interesting new directions for analysis, as well as some slight revision to several species’ classification. He also held monthly tutorials, for any who wished to attend, on the art of anatomical drawing, following the von Soemmerring method.

But nothing in his career to that point had suggested a man with the curiosity or bravery—some would say foolhardiness—to set out on such a long and uncertain journey. The Hills were wild lands, a violent jungle of tangled and twisted things, where the weather seemed always to threaten and the inhabitants lived life to the bone. And the story of the Monster was just that, no more than a tale. To risk a respectable, if modest, career for a mere rumor seemed to many the height of madness.

The Inquisitor drew up detailed plans for the studies he wished to conduct in the Hills. This was by necessity, of course, for the academy grant forms demanded a specific accounting of the expenses he would incur, in order to determine the extent of funding he would receive. In brief, he aspired to conduct a complete botanical survey of the far reaches of the Hills, utilizing modern and rational techniques that had not been available to previous explorers. The Monster, so central in his thoughts about the project, went unmentioned in his various prospectuses.

See the rest of the story at Circumambient Scenery

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Now Available: The Masks of Honor

Masks of Honor

Luisa is always more than she appears. Rumor and mystery surround her. And strange events seem to follow wherever she goes.

Born in Lima, City of Kings, to a noble family, her father so fears her true nature that he banishes her to a convent. There she falls under the suspicion of the Inquisition and decides to flee.

How can a young woman hope to hide herself in colonial Peru, where honor is prized above all else? By adopting whatever masks respectability requires. It is only when someone is able to pierce the veil of her mask that the real danger begins.

In a world where she will always stand apart, Luisa embarks on an adventure, marked by betrayal and murder, terrible powers and mysterious strangers. The Masks of Honor is her incredible confession and a story like no other.

A novel by Clint Westgard
Available at AmazonKobo, and Smashwords

A Nefarious Rite

When I slipped out of my room it was deep in the night, well past second sleep, when not an honorable soul could be expected to be about in the world. I was at one with the shadows as I moved through Don Francisco’s hallways, going from room to room, verifying again that all were empty of inhabitants. As I inspected what were ostensibly the servants’ quarters more closely than I had the previous night, I was convinced that no soul ever lay their head upon those rough pillows. When I had satisfied myself that the house was empty, I turned to the grounds, scouring the stable where Don Francisco kept his horses, along with a few pigs and some cattle, finding no sign of anyone there either.

I returned to the house, convinced that I must have overlooked something there. A dozen Indians and a Castilian could not simply vanish into the air, even if the man was an alchemist, as he claimed. I retraced my earlier steps within, this time going slowly so that I could feel at the seams of the place, here at the floor, there at a fireplace, trying to find some secret passageway. None appeared, until I came to what appeared to be a newer addition to the house attached to the kitchens, which I had only glanced at on my earlier journey. At its far end, near where the entrance to the cellar was, there was an empty space, absent of purpose.

I went to it immediately, crouching down to run my hands along the floor, and was rewarded with the discovery of a trapdoor. I pulled it up and saw some wooden stairs descending into the inky blackness below. After checking to ensure that the door would not lock behind me, I went below. The darkness was near absolute, but I have always been at ease in the dark. When I came to the bottom of the stairs I could discern a pathway, carved from the earth and supported by timbers, as though it were the shaft of a mine. I half expected to be assaulted by the sound of pickaxes upon rocks and the searing stench of quicksilver, but the silence and the darkness held firm.

I started forward, the smell of damp earth heavy in my nostrils, unease tickling at the hairs on my neck. The farther I went the farther I was from my only avenue of escape, and the damper my palms and the drier my throat became. I walked for what seemed like hours, though in all likelihood it was only a few interminable minutes, the silence playing on my thoughts until my imagination had filled my head with any number of fearsome and terrible sights that I was certain were about to be revealed to me. The passage narrowed as I went until it came to a turn—somewhere near the edge of the professor’s land, I reasoned—and after I had made the turn a dim light flickered into view at the end of this new tunnel. I slowed my approach, being careful to make absolutely no sound as I went, though I could hear nothing from the room where the light was.

I crouched low as I came to the entrance and peered around the corner, my body pressed against the cold earth. Within I saw a cavern, ancient and wide, formed long ago by the vagaries of the earth. I paid little mind to this wonder, though, for a far stranger sight drew my attention: all the professor’s servants were arrayed in a circle upon the cavern floor, each of them with a vial attached to their arms. Studying them closely, I could see that these vials were being filled with blood dripping slowly from small punctures on the Indians’ wrists. At the center of this nefarious circle was a goblet that, I knew without looking, was filled with blood.

I hissed at the sight of it, recalling the terrible rites the Stranger had been carrying out in the tombs of Cuzco. What foul necromancy was taking place here? I turned my attention to the poor Indians whose blood was being stolen, shaking the nearest to me to see if they were asleep. He did not rouse, and no breath seemed to pass from his lips. Had they somehow passed from the realm of the living and now inhabited some purgatory in this place? I was so engrossed in my study of the Indians, my own horror rising like bile in my throat, that I did not notice the shadows begin to move until it was too late. A firm blow struck my head and I fell to the ground and was lost to oblivion.

When I awoke, the light in the cavern had gone out and the Indians had risen, only the goblet remaining at the center of the circle. I was at the far end of the cave, my wrists and ankles chained to some ancient stone lodged in the earth. I had no idea how long I had been unconscious, but I suspected it had been some time and that morning would be near. Would Diego be joining me soon, I wondered? As if in answer to my thought, he appeared, led by Don Francisco. I called to him but he gave no sign that he heard me, his face blank of thought and expression.

A chill went down my spine at this sight, and my horror only grew as Don Francisco led the boy to where his Indians had so recently lain having their life force drained from them. He drew a thin knife from his belt that I could see was ornamented with oddly shaped runes, along with one of those fiendish vials of his. That he tied to Diego’s wrist, muttering some phrases in Latin, the knife poised in his hand. He pierced the boy on each wrist, one draining into the vial, the other left to open to feed the earth.

Diego, you are not his, I called to him. You must resist him.

Don Francisco laughed at my words. He is yours no longer, he said to me, leaving the boy and walking over to me, a malicious look in his eyes. Soon enough he will be mine, as docile as all the sheep in my flock.

I spat on the ground at his feet, cursing his name. What of me, I said. Do you expect me to be transmuted into one of your automata?

No, he said. Your kind does not respond well to my treatments. I have other plans for you.

What are your plans for the boy and these others, I asked, my fury growing by the instant. Are they to be drained until they are husks. I thought you were educating them and turning them into Christians.

Indeed I am, the professor insisted. Christians and good subjects. They are obedient and observant, not the slothful and ignorant sort like your boy here. He will learn his place in time.

Christians? I laughed at him. What claim do you have to our true faith? What foul rite are you practicing here?

Don Francisco looked at me scornfully. I am a philosopher and learned man and I will not have someone of your kind saying that I am not a Christian or a man. What you see here is no black rite, no foul magick, but a philosophic investigation into the most important alchemical secrets of our age. What I am collecting here is the divine quintessence of this land. This is the secret Magnus told Aquinas upon his deathbed, the secret to eternity itself.

As for you, he continued, stroking his chin with his fingers, a dear friend has requested that I keep you here. He is most eager to reacquaint himself with you.

My heart went still at his words and I felt myself begin to tremble. Though I tried to master my emotions they must have shown upon my face, for Don Francisco chuckled at my reaction.

Yes, I thought you would remember my friend. You are in his debt, as I understand it. You should know that he only accepts payment in blood.

I should not be surprised you would be in league with that devil, I cried, anger surging to overwhelm my fear. Do you do this work for him? He has worked his black magick on you as well.

Don Francisco scoffed at my rage. Don’t be a fool, he said. He is one of the great minds of this new world. A philosopher of existence to rival Magnus. It was he who taught me the secrets of the philosopher’s stone. But enough chatter, young Diego’s vial is full and I have much to teach him.

He turned his attention to the boy, untying the vial and emptying it in the cup, which was now full almost to the brim. He fingered it tenderly, as though it were the holiest of grails, and then pulled Diego to his feet and began to lead him away. He paused before he left the cavern, as though a thought had just occurred to him, and turned to say to me:

Tell me, then, I am given to understand from my friend that you can survive for quite some time without food or drink. We shall see, at any rate.

His laughter, grim and cold, echoed down the halls of the passage long after he had disappeared from sight. I was unable to stop myself from snarling and cursing like a rabid dog at him, but as soon as the sound of his mocking had vanished from the air I started to weep, for the Stranger was now on his way from Cuzco, and with him came my doom.

from The Maleficio Chronicles