I’m currently making some deep revisions to Zombie Cowboy Two-Step. If anyone would be interested in a free ebook copy to beta read and offer suggestions for changes, I would love to hear from you. (I’m closing the Beta-Read offer on October 31st. If you’re interested, I’d need feedback by November 10th if it’s going to be incorporated.)
If anyone would be interested in an Advanced Reader Copy (in ebook format) in return for an honest review, I would be happy to send one to you once all of the beta changes are complete. This should happen in mid to late November. I will be publishing Zombie-Cowboy Two Step in December. This offer closes once the book is published on Amazon. (Please see below the Zombie Cowboy cover photo for a Chapter 1 excerpt to see if it’s something that would interest you.)
My contact is fiction @ jeanetteraleigh.com (Spaces inserted to hopefully avoid the spam bots. When emailing, just squish it together.)
All Wyatt wanted was a Thursday afternoon at the saloon, a quiet moment every week to drown his sorrows and numb pains best left forgotten. Then he could return to his life as a sheriff. He’d picked Red Bluff in the Nebraska territory to live. A quiet town with a few rough weekends when the miners got rowdy. And now he wanted to live his days in peace, in the shadow of the mountains.
With a home in the midst of a field scattered with pine, Wyatt spent hours sitting in a chair on his back porch trying to find peace. Even in the silence of a warm summer day, that kind of solitary contentment was hard to come by. Cold, hard memories, bitter loneliness, and an ache so cold he swore his heart was frozen fought the warm peace of the valley. When the memories forced him off the porch, Wyatt visited the stables.
By midday, that’s where he was–rubbing down Annabelle and filling her trough. The owner of the mercantile rushed in blustering and worried. Wyatt’s home was as busy as Docs when an emergency hit. Bill was a puffy man with thick jowls made all the thicker by the dainty gold glasses that rested on his nose. His chest heaving, Bill said, “Stage coach was robbed this morning, east of town.”
Wyatt closed his eyes and took a deep breath, the acrid smell of horse manure and hay filling his nostrils. He’d picked Red Bluffs because the railroad towns in the south drew the dangerous types, the outlaws hoping to rob a train and the rough men seeking work. The riots and lynchings and gun fights and uprisings centered in the busy towns far away from Red Bluff. All those robberies and lynchings were supposed to happen somewhere else to someone else. Wyatt sighed.
The sheriff was on friendly terms with the driver, an older fellow who was as smart as a whip and a card-shark to boot. Wyatt asked, thinking that his friend might have been killed, “What happened to Jerome?”
Bill removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. “In the back of the store. Didn’t know quite what to do with him. The feller’s not right in the head. He’s been going on about the walking dead. Not a scratch on him, though.”
“The walking dead?” Wyatt felt his stomach lurch as he closed the stall door with a final thud, his mouth firmly set. “I’d best see him.”
Bill nodded and together the two men walked across field and furrow and on down the compacted dirt street to Bill’s shop. Wyatt brushed by the bolts of cloth and sacks of flour on his way to the small kitchen nestled cozily behind the shop. There in the back of the mercantile Jerome huddled on a stool staring at the floor with his hands curled into fists. Not a muscle on the driver was relaxed. He looked scared. Scared the way a boy felt when he was picking up a bayonet and walking with the column just minutes before his first battle. Wyatt closed his eyes, trying to shake off the feeling of dread roiling in his stomach.
When he saw Wyatt, Jerome cried out,“The Clayton gang…they weren’t human, Wyatt. They was once but not no more. They got red eyes and smell like the grave.” Jerome stared wildly at Wyatt, his voice hoarse as if he’d screamed himself to a whisper. “Jim Clayton. He’s got red eyes. Red eyes.” His voice seemed to echo in the tiny room.
Wyatt wondered then why everyone looked to him for help, asked him to solve problems no man on Earth could solve. But this was Jerome. If it was strange that the Clayton gang hit a stage coach when they had been robbing the trains and banks closer to Cheyenne, then Wyatt supposed the insanity had a reason. But what Jerome said about red eyes and the smell–that brought back memories of the war Wyatt left buried on a wooded hill a long time back.“Where were you when they hit?”
“A couple miles from the Summer place. The carriage overturned and the horses were screaming. I ran for the tree line before they could see me.” Jerome’s clothes were muddy and his face scratched where he’d gone through a bramble.
“What happened next?” Wyatt didn’t want to hear. He knew he didn’t. But somehow he asked the question.
“I looked back once I was hidden in the trees. If they saw me, they didn’t care. They stumbled like drunks and howled like animals and started at the horses. I saw a man take a bite out of Ranger’s ear while the horse was still trying to clear the harness. Ranger kicked him solid, but he didn’t even feel it. Went right back to the horse.
I ran. I had a gun and I could have stopped them but I ran.” Tears spilled down Jerome’s cheeks. The salty man normally spare of words and slow to show any emotion cried likechild with shoulders shaking and nose running.
“Jerome, I can promise you, running was the only thing you could have done. One man against three and if the horse kick didn’t stop them, a gun wouldn’t either. I can help you home if you want.” Wyatt offered. He didn’t relish the thought of driving Jerome all the way out to his ranch, not on a Thursday when he allowed himself to drink until the pain stopped. But for Jerome, he would.
“I live out in the boonies. They’ll come for me.” Jerome’s voice rose to a shrill sound that Wyatt had sworn could only come out of old Mrs. Hopper down the street calling out for one of the kids to go to the mercantile for something. She paid them back in penny candy.
“You can sleep here tonight. We’ve got a cot. Thirty cents if you’re willing.” Bill was always on the lookout for more money and it helped that his wife Rebecca liked Jerome well enough. Or at the very least didn’t dislike him.
Jerome nodded, a little of the fear easing from his eyes. “That would be best, I think.”
Wyatt’s brow furrowed and he stood, hat in hands, trying to think of the right words to soothe Jerome. Nothing came. “Well, you take care, then.”
Jerome tilted his head back, looking Wyatt in the eye with feverish sincerity. “Wyatt, don’t you go out chasing that gang tonight. There’s not enough time before now and sunset and you don’t want to meet them in the dark. Promise me you’ll wait until mornin’.”
“The Clayton gang is long gone by now, but I’ll wait.” Wyatt told himself that he was doing it for Jerome, but Wyatt had reasons of his own to fear the gang. As for the undead, well, Wyatt feared them most of all.