Over the next two weeks in celebration of the forthcoming Lovecraft’s Monsters, Tachyon and editor Ellen Datlow present excerpts from a selection of the volume’s horrifying tales.
Today’s selection comes from “Bulldozer” by Laird Barron.
“A Pinkerton man. Well, shit my drawers.” The engineer, a greasy brute in striped coveralls, gave me the once-over. Then he spat a stream of chaw and bent his back to feeding the furnace. Never heard of my man Rueben Hicks, so he said. He didn’t utter another word until the narrow gauge spur rolled up to the wretched outskirts of Purdon.
Ugly as rot in a molar, here we were after miles of pasture and hill stitched with barbwire.
Rude frame boxes squatted in the stinking alkaline mud beside the river. Rain pounded like God’s own darning needles, stood in orange puddles along the banks, pooled in ruts beneath the awnings. Dull lamplight warmed coke-rimed windows. Shadows fluttered, moths against glass. Already, above the hiss and drum of the rain came faint screams, shouts, piano music.
Just another wild and wooly California mining town that sprang from the ground fast and would fall to ruin faster when the gold played out. Three decades was as the day of a mayfly in the scope of the great dim geography of an ancient continent freshly opened to white men.
Industry crowded in on the main street: Bank. Hotel. Whorehouse. Feed & Tack. Dry Goods. Sawbones. Sheriff’s Office. A whole bunch of barrelhouses. Light of the Lord Baptist Temple up the lane and yonder. Purdon Cemetery. A-frame houses, cottages, shanties galore. Lanky men in flannels. Scrawny sows with litters of squalling brats. A rat warren.
The bruised mist held back a wilderness of pines and crooked hills. End of the world for all intents and purposes.
I stood on the leaking platform and decided this was a raw deal. I didn’t care if the circus strongman was behind one of the piss-burned saloon facades, swilling whiskey, feeling up the thigh of a horse-toothed showgirl. I’d temporarily lost my hard-on for his scalp with the first rancid-sweet whiff of gunsmoke and open sewage. Suddenly, I’d had a bellyful.
Nothing for it but to do it. I slung my rifle, picked up my bags, and began the slog.
I signed Jonah Koenig on the ledger at the Riverfront Hotel, a rambling colonial monolith with oil paintings of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and the newly anointed Grover Cleveland hanging large as doom in the lobby. This wasn’t the first time I’d used my real name on a job since the affair in Schuyllkill, just the first time it felt natural. A sense of finality had settled into my bones.
Hicks surely knew I was closing in. Frankly, I didn’t much care after eleven months of eating coal dust from Boston to San Francisco. I cared about securing a whiskey, a bath, and a lay. Not in any particular order.
The clerk, a veteran of the trade, understood perfectly. He set me up on the third floor in a room with a liquor cabinet, a poster bed, and a view of the mountains. The presidential suite. Some kid drew a washtub of lukewarm water and took my travel clothes to get cleaned. Shortly, a winsome, blue-eyed girl in a low-cut dress arrived without knocking. She unlocked a bottle of bourbon, two glasses, and offered to scrub my back.
She told me to call her Violet and didn’t seem fazed that I was buck-naked or that I’d almost blown her head off. I grinned and hung gun and belt on the back of a chair. Tomorrow was more than soon enough to brace the sheriff.
Violet sidled over, got a handle on the situation without preamble. She had enough sense not to mention the brand on my left shoulder, the old needle tracks, or the field of puckered scars uncoiling on my back.
We got so busy I completely forgot to ask if she’d ever happened to screw a dear chum of mine as went by Rueben Hicks. Or Tom Mullen, or Ezra Slade. Later I was half-seas over, and when I awoke she was gone.
I noticed a crack in the plaster. A bleeding fault line.
For more information on Lovecraft’s Monsters, visit the Tachyon site.
Cover and illustration by John Coulthart.