Excerpts

Fractured Fragment Friday: “Riding the Devil” (and coupons!)

“Riding the Devil” was started by a vivid dream someone shared with me. They were so struck by it that they thought it would be a good basis for a story, so they left me a voicemail detailing it: A protagonist who rides a symbiotic vehicle that makes him dried up and skeletal. He uses the vehicle to get away, while the vehicle sucks life from him. He melds into it, his flesh sealed to it, his bones pop as they’re displaced to conform to the vehicle’s needs. He’s used up more each time he rides, and he’s training a new rider. This happens in an arrid place – most of the details of the ride entail dangerous drop-offs and narrow places – hilly, big open spaces, narrow, small areas. AND this is NOT cowboys and aliens. Well… you can decide how close I got to it.

Here’s the blurb:

With his town running from one strange frontier to another as they elude their RidingTheDevilCover_Smashwordsabductors, Aaron Walker is forced to risk all to fulfill his destiny. Would you do as well? Read “Riding the Devil” to see.

And here’s this week’s excerpt:

On the third Move since they’d escaped the J’harn, Dire Smith marked Aaron Walker. Aaron was only three.

His ma’s holding him, and his pa has his arm around them both as they stand with the rest of the folk at the edge of The Town, silently looking out at the mountains surrounding the plateau they’ve stopped on.

There’s a murmur and movement to their right, and the crowd parts, and there’s Smith in his tan longcoat and his black Thunderbird hat, standing right next to Aaron. Smith’s red-rimmed eyes ride above his mask of a neckerchief, pass over Aaron and take him in. He feels his ma shudder and his pa’s arm tighten. Then Smith turns away and shambles off with that slow, dragging gait. No one says a word as he disappears into the dust.

*****

It’s been eight years now since that last Move. The surrounding land changes each time, but The Town is always the same. The saloon, houses, general store, livery and the rest spread out from The Center, an alien brass and iron cylinder that seems to grow out of the middle of Main Street. Put there by the devil-spawned J’harn when they first took The Town. There’s four of their devil-horned faces stretching out of the metal, higher than a man’s head, one for each point of the compass. They look like someone fashioned the skull of a steer, then instead of putting normal cow eyes in the sides, they put large, oval eyes on top, between the horns. Folks still think the J’harn can spy on them through those eyes. No one ever goes in or out of there, ‘cept for on a Move. No one but Dire Smith.

Aaron’s playing sticks with Ethan, Mark and Ruthie in the alley alongside the General Store. He’s about to take his turn when Ethan lays a hand on his shoulder.

“There’s the Devil, now,” Ethan whispers.

Ruthie and Mark scooch around from their side of the circle so they’re all facing The Center.  Aaron looks up and sees Smith standing at the door, completely covered up like always. He seems to look right at Aaron.

“Ooooh,” squeaks Ruthie, “he’s looking at me!”

“He’s not the Devil, Ethan,” Aaron says as he watches Smith turn his back on them and head away up the street. “You shouldn’t ought to call him that.”

“Why not?” smirks Ethan. “You sweet on him?”

Aaron wants to punch Ethan. He would if Ethan wasn’t so much bigger than him. Instead Aaron just shakes his head.

“My pa calls him that all the time,” says Mark. “on account of its him as stuck us here.”

“Think he’d rather we were all still slaves?” Aaron says.

“My folks say so, too,” Ethan chimes in, “say it’s him as left Mark’s ma and the others behind.”

“My pa says people need to remember it was them asked Smith to save us. He did the best he could.”

“Just cause your pa’s sheriff doesn’t mean he knows everything that’s in that outlaw’s head,” Ethan says, and then he stands up. “Let’s go.”

Aaron doesn’t bother asking where. Ethan wants to follow Smith and see what he’s up to. Nobody follows Dire Smith. Even the dogs keep their distance.

“Nah,” he says, not looking at Ethan, but the dig comes anyway.

“That’s ok. You girls can stay here. Come on, Mark.”

Mark looks at Aaron sheepishly, then gets up and follows Ethan. Aaron watches after them, warring with himself. For as long as he can remember, his pa’s told him to give Smith a wide berth.

“I’m tired of sticks,” says Ruthie. “Want to play dollies?”

Aaron catches up with Ethan and Mark near the edge of The Town. Ethan doesn’t say anything, just signals Aaron to get down behind the crates him and Mark are using as cover.

Dire Smith’s standing not more than 30 feet away, shading his eyes with a gloved hand as he stares into the sunset. Aaron wants to tell Ethan this isn’t such a good idea, and they ought to sneak back into town, but someone walks up and stops alongside of Smith. It’s Aaron’s pa.

“They’re coming,” Smith says, still scanning the horizon.

Aaron’s pa arches his hand above his eyes and tries looking the same direction as Smith, but gives up.

“I don’t see nothing,” he says, “how can you tell?”

Smith lowers his hand and cocks his head. “Not by looking out there, that’s for sure,” he winks. “The devil machine’s telling me.”

Then Aaron’s pa looks down at the dusty ground and shakes his head. “How long do we have to get The Town ready?”

“Not sure. Figure five days.”

“I’ll get the word out, then. It’ll take three to bring in the scavenger crews.”

He starts to walk back into town, but Smith isn’t done. “I’ll need the boy.”

Aaron’s pa stops, stiff-like.

“Not so soon, Smith. He’s only eleven.”

“I just need his help getting ready; I’m not as… young as I used to be. Besides, he needs time to get used to me, and I need to start teaching him.”

Aaron’s pa’s shoulders droop. “Alright, then, I’ll send him by.”

“No need,” says Smith, and he looks right at where the boys are hiding. Aaron sees Ethan go pale, like Smith’s coming for him.

“Follow me, Aaron Walker,” Smith says, and he shuffles into town.

Aaron won’t let Ethan see he’s scared, too. He stands and looks at his pa, who just nods his head in Smith’s direction, so he goes after him. He doesn’t follow too close. He sees the way people sort of drift out of Smith’s path. He sees how they watch him with their eyes down, afraid he might see them looking.

When Smith gets to The Center he stops by the door; he’s a shadow in the brightness reflecting off the brass cylinder. Aaron stops too, not getting any closer than the twenty or so feet he’s been keeping. The devil head above the door is staring at him, trying to suck him into those empty eyes.

“Don’t worry, boy,” Smith says as the door slides open on its own, “I won’t bite.” He disappears inside the cylinder, but unlike the other times Aaron’s watched, the door stays open. Aaron plucks up his courage and steps inside. He hears a sfitz that makes chills all the way up his back. He turns and sees the door’s closed behind him.

He’s on a landing. No sign of the devil faces he knows are on the outside. Nothing but smooth brushed brass walls, and stairs circling down around the inside of the cylinder. There’s light coming from down there, and a faint humming that he feels through his feet. He grabs hold of the brass railing and feels the humming in his hands, too.

At the bottom is a round room with four tunnels leading out of it. All of them the same brushed brass, and all of them go straight off as far as Aaron can see. There’s an opening a ways down one of the tunnels, and he can see Smith’s coat and hat thrown on the floor, so Aaron wanders down that way.

It’s a strange, other-worldly room. It’s completely round, like being on the inside of a ball, and all the outer surfaces are covered with tiny, flickering lights, with no spaces between them. It hurts Aaron’s eyes to look right at them. A black bridge with side rails extends from the door to the room’s center, and there’s Smith. Aaron’s never seen his face before. His skin looks all dry and cracked, like leather left out in the sun too long. He’s pulled down his neckerchief, and has a solemn look on his parched face. He’s standing by what looks like a pile of muslin hanging in midair.

Aaron walks halfway out onto the platform before Smith turns towards him.

“Don’t come in here without me,” Smith says, “and don’t you ever touch this.”

He grabs hold of the muslin and whips it aside, dropping it on the bridge. There’s an odd contraption, all shiny brass and steel pipes, supported by a brass pedestal rising from the platform. The front of it is a devil face. Smith raises a leg over the machine and straddles it, then reaches forward to where the metal tubes that make up the devil’s horns stick out on either side, and grips them in his hands.

Suddenly, Aaron hears another sfitz behind him as the door closes. The flashing lights smooth out, and now it’s like they’re outside. The bridge vanishes. Aaron stumbles and holds the air real tight where the railing was as his knees slam down onto the bridge. It’s still there, but he can see right through it, and it’s like he’s floating over The Town. He sees people walking around outside, sees everything to the edge of The Town and beyond.

Except there’s rolling, shifting dunes all around it that don’t look like the plain as what Aaron knows to be there. The dunes are a glowing gold under a star strewn night sky, so much starlight it could almost be day, except in one spot hanging low on the horizon behind Smith, where both the sand and the stars are swallowed by utter blackness.

“You see it, don’t you?” says Smith, jerking his head across his shoulder towards the place.

Aaron stares at the spot so hard it looks to be changing size, getting bigger. Or maybe it’s just his eyes getting tired from staring at it all.

“That’s how we know they’re coming,” says Smith.

 

“Riding the Devil” is a speculative fiction short story, and is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/273869

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B07JZBCcollection2cover

It’s also included in the collection More Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND:

Smashwords (at 30%-off for the sitewide Authors Give Back sale): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/351846

CollectionFirst3CoverAmazon:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EUBFGX6

“Riding the Devil” is also included in collection The First Three ‘Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND’. (The next ten people who purchase the collection on Smashwords with coupon code XV84M will receive a 33% discount. That’s only $3.34 for EIGHTEEN stories – such a deal!):

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/712373

Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XR2TQQQ

 <<<>>>

I am participating in Smashwords’ site-wide Authors Give Back promotion, which isJD1BrokenDownCover being held to show support for people around the world suffering through isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. All of my collections (including my Detective Jimmy Delaney and Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire series) AND Swordsmaster are on sale for 30%-off. The link to my eBooks on Smashwords is here:

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/NoTimeToThink

This was supposed to be the last day of the promotion, but it has now been extended through May 31st! There’s a coupon on the page for each eligible eBook – ENJOY!

<<<>>>

Swordsmaster – my first novel – is ready for your reading pleasure, so give it a read, Swordsmaster4won’t you?

Fate is neither something to run away from, nor something to run towards.

The first bright-eye to be seen on the mountain in living memory, Sandrik didn’t want anyone to think of him as they did the ominous Aurae of legend, so he had worked hard to keep his special abilities hidden. But there was more to Sandrik than even he knew. Now that it was time for him to enter the ancient ruins of Taernfeld and be declared a man, what other changes might he be forced into?

Swordsmaster is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:

Smashwords (at 30%-off during the Smashwords Authors Give Back promotion): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/954501

Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WNK79FM

<<<>>>

William Mangieri’s writing, including “Imperial Imperilment (the 8th Herc Tom, ImperialImperilmentCoverChampion of the Empire Story), can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
• Smashwords:  https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/NoTimeToThink
• His Amazon Author page:  http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008O8CBDY
• Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/william-mangieri?store=book&keyword=william+mangieri

To CONNECT WITH HIM (and LIKE and FOLLOW – you know you should…), go to
• His site on WordPress:  https://williammangieri.wordpress.com
• “William Mangieri’s Writing Page” on Facebook at:  http://www.facebook.com/NoTimeToThink
• His Goodreads author page:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6893616.William_Mangieri
• Or on twitter: @WilliaMangieri

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