Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake

Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake

Author:Jay Lake
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781466858473
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates

The Temptation of Eustace Prudence McAllen

* * *

Editor Kerrie Lynn Hughes asked me one day for a story. Which she needed by the end of the week. About supernatural weirdness in the Old West. But it couldn’t be zombies or vampires. And would I mind setting it in Hell’s Half Acre, Wyoming? “Sure,” I said. There’s nothing like a focused market requirement. Then I went out for excellent barbecue at the Salt Lick outside of Austin. The rest is history, and a few burps.

* * *

You know that place out west of Casper? Wild badlands like you’ve never seen, all rocks and salt and twisty dead-end ravines’d swallow up a man and his horse both like they was watermelon seeds. Hell’s Half Acre is its name these days, but folks used to call that the Devil’s Kitchen.

What do you think, biscuit-head? On account of him cooking up sin there. What else’d the devil his own self set to boiling over a fire?

Now this fellow name of Eustace Prudence McAllen rode for Hotchkiss Williamson what had the Broken Bow Ranch out that way. Williamson held a good spread, with two different springs and a box canyon full of cottonwoods running down through his grasslands. Drought didn’t bother him nearly so much as it troubled his neighbors, though he did have a problem with range fires there through the summers of 1864 and 1865.

McAllen, he might of been a Southern man, ain’t no telling now. But he’d showed up the autumn of 1863 and signed on. Working over the winters on the range here always has called for a special kind of cuss, so Williamson and his brother ranchers didn’t ask a lot of questions of a man what rode strong and didn’t backtalk and kept the cattle out of trouble. Anyone who came west in those war years was avoiding something, somewhere. So long as they didn’t bring their troubles in their saddlebags, that was generally good enough.

No, I can’t rightly say exactly what he looked like. You talk to people who rode for Williamson in them years, you get different tellings. Time plays tricks on memory, don’t you know. There was a lot of panics, from Indian attacks and the range fires and what all. Can’t even say if’n he was a colored fellow, some kind of quadroon, or just white, like a black Irishman. Taller than most, maybe. Carried an ivory-handled double-barreled LeMat revolver what had been engraved real tiny, some folks said it was the book of Jeremiah writ real small, always close to his hand.

Why anyone would carry that particular book of the Holy Bible so I can’t rightly say.

So here’s McAllen working the cattle for Williamson and minding his own business. Don’t drink too much, don’t fight hardly none at all, don’t cuss in front of Williamson’s wife and daughters, lends a hand even when he ain’t been asked. Everything’s fine until the second summer of range fires and somehow word gets around that McAllen has been setting ’em.


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