QSFer Julie Bozza is the editor of a new queer western anthology: Queer Weird West Tales.
Frontiers have always attracted the Other – where they find that the Other is always already there. These 22 stories explore what happens when queer characters encounter weirdness on the edge of the worlds they know.
Authors include: Julie Bozza, J.A. Bryson, Dannye Chase, S.E. Denton, Miguel Flores, Adele Gardner, Roy Gray, KC Grifant, Peter Hackney, Bryn Hammond, Narrelle M Harris, Justin Warren Jackson, Toshiya Kamei, Catherine Lundoff, Bunny McFadden, Angus McIntyre, Atlin Merrick, Eleanor Musgrove, Jennifer Lee Rossman, Lauren Scharhag, Sara L. Uckelman, and Dawn Vogel.
No Mercy Down in the Mine
I’d managed to give Emmett and the boys the slip. I ended up nine days in the wastes because of it, but I done it.
I’d never been so far in before, or gotten so lost. I was starting to worry I was gonna end up chow for the desert dogs, no lie. All my life, I’d been pinging around between the towns nestled in the Sasing River Valley, between the river itself—that thin, gunmetal-gray ribbon that separates civilization from the vast Carcosan desert known as the red wastes—and the Shadow Mountains. I knew them all, from Corralejo all the way down to Stull.
On the fourth day, my compass started to go haywire. It was the damnedest thing. I didn’t have nothing stowed in my pack that might throw the needle off. For a while, I tried to navigate by the stars, but somehow, those didn’t seem right either. I thought maybe it was the heat getting to me. That same day, my water skins ran empty. I did what I could—traveled by night, laid my shirt and bandana out to catch the morning dew, squeezed the juices out of cactus and their prickly fruit. But my old mek, Reina, had only the desert grasses and scrub. She was usually good at finding us water—Sergio always said meks can smell it, even underground. But I didn’t have time to be digging no wells. Emmett and the others were probably on my trail already. Emmett’s a mean sonofabitch, but he’s not stupid, and he’s one of the best trackers I ever saw. So, eight days in, my poor Reina up and croaked on me.
By the ninth day, I damn near gave up the ghost myself. I thought I’d been heading south. Instead, I stumbled into the town of Mobley, parched and dizzy. I didn’t spare a moment to wonder how the hell I’d wandered so far afield, nor did I worry about being spotted by Sheriff Rudolfo de Castro—I knew for a fact that my wanted poster was hanging on his wall. Last I checked, I was worth 80 argentos. That’s a lot for a woman outlaw. (On the other hand, a jail cell wasn’t sounding half-bad. At least there’d be water to drink and a bunk where I might find me some repose.) Instead, I saw the trough outside the saloon and went right for it. Tripped over something and went sprawling face-first in the dust. Crawled the rest of the way. Gripping the steel edge (if it had been noon instead of morning, it would’ve blistered my fingers), I used the last of my strength to haul myself up.
I sank back down. It took my addled brain a minute to notice there weren’t no meks tied to any of the hitching posts. The street was deserted, covered in shotgun shells, drag marks, blood, and some kind of oily black stuff. The blood looked pretty fresh too. And carcasses—what I took at first to be meks, but the sun and the sand puppies had been at them, so it was hard to say for sure. My thoughts were like sludge. I couldn’t make sense out of none of it. That’s when I noticed what it was I’d tripped over.
It was a head. Sheriff de Castro’s head. His dead eyes stared at me, mouth slightly agape, gray tongue protruding. His cheeks and mustache were dusted with sand from rolling along the ground. My own head, while still firmly attached to my shoulders, had never ached so. The pain was like the glint off a very sharp knife, bright and cruel. Was I really seeing this, or were my eyes playing tricks on me? The last thing I heard was footsteps on the sidewalk boards coming towards me, voices. A man: “Well, I’ll be damned! Iffin’ it ain’t Bootheel Sally.”
And a woman: “Yep. Poor ol’ Rudy—coulda had the chance to slap her in irons and he missed it. Again.”
I drifted in and out for a while. Soft hands lifted my head, put a glass to my lips. Those same hands moved my limbs gently, wiped me down with a cool, damp cloth.
Presently, I rejoined the waking world. I had no idea where I was at first. In a bed, in itself befuddling. (I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’d slept in an actual bed since I was fourteen.) The blinds were drawn. I could make out that it was daylight, but that was all. How long had I been here? My headache had faded to a dull throb. Some sound had woke me, but what? Then I heard it again—the maa’ing of a goat.
I looked down at myself, covered in a damp sheet. Someone had stripped me down to my unmentionables.
Next to the bed sat a young woman in a calico dress. Even in the dim light, I could see the purplish-brown scar knotting up one side of her face. She went over to the washstand in the corner and poured me another glass of water. I tried to sit up on my own but couldn’t quite get there, so she had to help again. I only got down three or four swallows before she took the glass away. “Not so fast, now. Won’t do you no good if it comes right back up again.”
Normally, I don’t take kindly to people who try to tell me what’s what, but I was too bleary to argue. She nodded, curt as a schoolmarm, and handed back the glass. I took small, obedient sips.
“You need the piss bucket?” she inquired.
“Not just now,” I said. “Mobley?”
She nodded again.
“How long have I been here?”
“You got here yesterday morning. It’s Wednesday, ’bout three. You slept a long time.”
About thirty straight hours by my reckoning. Damn. “Somethin’ happened to the sheriff—somethin’ bad?”
I thought maybe she’d say it had all just been a fever dream. Instead, she said, “Not just the sheriff.” Going to the door, she called in a whisper-shout, “She’s awake!”
Julie Bozza is an Aussie-Anglo hybrid empowered by writing, fuelled by espresso, calmed by knitting, overexcited by photography, and madly in love with Amy Adams and John Keats.