Weird Tales of the Skullmask
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by Teel James Glenn
Description: Since mankind crept out of the caves, violence and injustice has been a common thread. And since those early times, the most harmed have called out for justice. For those most harmed, most in need, a strange object offers hope. Made from the skin of its first owner, the Skullmask provides its wearer with the knowledge, skill, speed, and intelligence of the countless others who have called on its power. But the Skullmask demands its price, and the Skullmask only appears when all else fails, and in those horrible cases where Revenge and Justice are one. WEIRD TALES OF THE SKULLMASK follows the Skullmask from a western town where rich ranchers terrorize farmers and their Mexican-born workers, on to a Caribbean island where Voodoo Loa and zombies hold sway, then to the city-room of a major newspaper where a reporter faces off against the German-American Bund, and finally to a post-WWII drug smuggling operation. In each case, ordinary justice has failed...but the Skullmask offers hope. Author Teel James Glenn writes a fast-paced action fantasy with deep homage to the pulp fiction classics of the 30s and 40s. Like other stories from this era (The Shadow, Doc Savage, Fu Manchu, Tarzan), SKULLMASK combines detecting with magic. The settings, too, (western, exotic tropical islands, and inner-city gang hangouts) reflect the golden age of pulp fiction. WEIRD TALES OF THE SKULLMASK makes for a fun and exciting read.
eBook Publisher: BooksForABuck, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [262 KB]
Reading time: 154-215 min.
Creed of the Skullmask
I was fashioned from the skin of the first victim I would avenge.
I am the collective experiences of all who have worn me in their quests for just Vengeance.
I am the means to redress wrongs.
My wearer may die but I live on.
I am the path to justice.
My wearer shares my memories which are longer
Than any who live today.
I am a candle of justice in a cathedral of evil.
Snuff me out and a new life will relight me.
My causes are many.
My lives are innumerable
I am the angel of vengeance.
I am the demon of justice.
I am the last and only hope of the hopeless.
I am the Skullmask
Pity those who wear me.
Wear me if you Dare.
* * * *
* * * *
The Skullrider of Desolation Flats
* * * *
"Use the ropes on them bunch quitters, ya lazy greaser, are you blind? Do it or I'll use a rope on yours," Buck Larkin yelled at the outriders on the herd. The big, bullnecked ramrod spit out a chaw of tobacco and cursed under his breath. "Lazy good fer nothing Mexicans." He had a square jaw, a perpetual two-day growth of beard and close set brown eyes beneath heavy brow ridges that always seemed to be scowling.
"Quite needlin' them, Buck," the cowpuncher, who rode along beside Larkin said. "You ride them vaqueros awful hard."
"I need an opinion out of you, Stone, I'll slap it out of you." Larkin was a head shorter than the grey, grim figure that rode beside him but wider across the chest by a half and with arms that all but burst from his flannel shirt. He was known for his ability to bend a horseshoe without much exertion.
"I don't work for you, Buck; I don't have to take your guff." Larkin's companion was a tall, spar man, with a scar along his jaw line that disappeared down the collar of his grey coat. His eyes were flint grey chips that seemed to miss nothing in the space around him. His attitude was grim at best and when Larkin spoke to him his thin lips tightened and his voice lowered.
Larkin snorted a full deep throated laugh full of dark mirth. "I wouldn't hire you no how, so don't loose no sleep over what I do." Larkin spurred his mount and moved ahead to yell at one of the outriders moving the small herd leaving Stone to glare after him with cold grey eyes.
One of the vaqueros who had been near enough to hear the exchange rode up beside the grim rider. "You should not question him, Senor Stone," the Mexican said, " He is moy loco e' capessa." The rider had features that hinted at Indian ancestry and in fact he had Yaqui blood in him.
"Why do you put up with him, Juan?" the gray rider asked. "There are other spreads around here to work for that pay as much as Buck."
The handsome Mexican shrugged his shoulders. "His father was a good man to work for; a fair man. When Senor Buck took over he felt he had to prove himself." The Latin gazed off across the dusty plain toward the foreboding badlands to the north and made a gesture that was half shrug and half a sigh of resignation. "He was always cruel but when he come back from the sea, since his father's stroke he has become muy worse."
"So, why not go?"
"Most of us have families and we have been here so long; it is not a easy thing to change." The two of them rode along by the small herd, the New Mexico dust swirling around them like unasked questions. "And," the Latin continued, "it is not so different with many other Americano, many do not like Mexicans. In some ways he is just more honest."
Stone gave a shallow nod. "Honest is the last word I'd use to describe Buck Larkin." When the vaquero laughed, the gray rider gave him a ghost of a smile then waved a farewell and rode off toward his own spread to the East.
"Stop jawing with no good squatters and get back to work, Juan," Larkin called from a distance ahead. "We gotta get this beef up to the west range by nightfall. It's Saturday night and I got me a bunch of drinking to do tonight."
The Mexican shuddered at the thought. Buck Larkin was a hard man sober but he was a dangerous man drunk.
* * * *
* * * *
An hour past nightfall the town of Page's Hope New Mexico was not a riotous place. In truth it never was a riotous place, except on the last Saturday of the month when the drovers and cowpunchers got their months pay. Then, it was noisy enough to justify the town sheriff's pay for the rest of the time.
It would pick up by eight or nine o'clock and the three saloons in the town proper wouldn't shut their doors until almost dawn. Many a man would stumble into Sunday morning services with watering eyes and tremor in their voice when they sang the hymns that was not religiously spawned passion though many of them were praying for headache relief all through the services.
After a quick bath and a shave, Buck Larkin made it into town by seven o'clock while there were still some of the 'decent' townsfolk out and about, scurrying to finish their chores and get off the street before the monthly 'fun' began. It was the mercantile compromise the growing town had made with the devil--it didn't want to be known as a cow town but it didn't want to die of neglect either. There was talk of a railroad spur from Taos but no one who heard the rumor could say where they had heard it or when this steam powered miracle would happen. In the meantime cattle was the lifeblood of the town and the families trying to build a town into a city put up with the rowdiness once a month.
One of the townsfolk who were part of the push to 'grow' the town was Hehewuti Greycloud. Her white friends called her Hehe. She was a Southern Hopi Indian who had studied back east at reservation expense to become a schoolteacher. She had come to the town over a year before and now ran the two-room schoolhouse at the north end of the town.
She was tall and thin, with pretty features and piercing dark eyes that proclaimed her intellect and self-assurance. She was dressed in a high-necked homemade brown dress. She wore her long black hair piled high on her head without a bonnet and had a red shawl pulled around her shoulders against the chill of the New Mexico night.
Hehewuti had visited one of her sick pupils to bring her the week's work and stayed for dinner with the girl's family. She had realized too late it was the last Saturday of the month and taken her leave abruptly. Her small house was at the opposite end of town and she was hurrying to get there before the cowhands filled the street.
"Hey, 'Breed," Buck called from horseback as his roan lopped along on the street parallel with the woman. "You need a date for the night?" He wore white cotton shirt, starched collar and a dark black frock coat that, stretched across his broad chest seemed wrong. He still wore his beat up brown Stetson pushed back high on his forehead.
She kept her pretty face focused forward, used to crude comments from many of the cowpunchers, and particularly from Buck who had often made a point of making his opinion of Indians and schoolmarms widely known around town.
"I'm talkin' to you, Indian," he said. He made Indian a dirty word by his tone. "You deaf as well cheap?" He spit a chaw of tobacco so that it struck the ground near her feet, some of the black slug splattering on her skirts.
"I hear the wind," she said without looking at him. "I hear the birds and the sound of rain in the distance; but I have no ears for the whining of dogs in heat." She quickened her pace, her boot heels clacking against the wooden deck of the sidewalk.
Buck glared at her for a long moment then laughed a snorting laugh and rode ahead into a side street that would take him to the Golden Cactus Saloon.
Hehewuti let out a sigh of relief, her shoulders sagging and let her pace slacken a bit. She waved to a shopkeeper just closing his leather goods store and then turned off the main street to head toward the small cottage she lived in on the edge of the town. She lived just on this side of the acceptable part of town just across the wooden bridge over the creek that divided Page's Hope from 'Mex' Town' as the poorer and seedier section of town was called.
Buck Larkin went on to the Golden Cactus with little or no more thought about the Indian teacher, his mind was already going to the saloon girls who worked at the 'Cactus, particularly, Molly with her golden hair. He dismounted his horse outside the saloon and threw a nickel to an old Yaqui, Bluestone who hovered around the saloon to watch the horses.
"You take care of that horse, you useless redskin," Buck warned him, "Or I'll ride your skinny ass home instead."
When Larkin pushed through the doors of the saloon there was a breath's pause in all those in the room. Eyes darted to the swinging doors and then quickly darted away for fear of giving offense. It was a smoky room with a real oak bar and genuine brass spittoons placed along the foot rail and sandboxes in the corners of the room for when the spittoons became too full on Saturday nights.
Molly Machean had been the 'head girl' at the Cactus for years and knew how to keep a line of cowpunchers all thinking they were her 'special' guy. She was on the lap of a cowpuncher from the lazy L ranch when Buck burst into the room and all but jumped from the man's lap and raced across the room to throw her arms around Larkin's neck.
"Buck!" she breathed beer breath on him and her over made-up face split into a grin, "I sure missed you, honey."
He picked her physically off the floor for a hug that made her grunt with discomfort then set her down hard.
"Let a man wet his whistle first, Molly," he said, "Then you can get to appreciatin' me." He pushed his way to the bar where the bartender had already set out a beer mug and a whiskey chaser for the big cowhand. Buck drank each in one gulp and then made a show of wiping his mouth off.
"Now I'm ready to do some drinkin'," he called to all who could hear. "Who's with me?"
The room reacted in different ways to the invitation. The new men in town bellied up quickly to get a free drink, but those who knew Buck and his rages stayed at the back of the pack or absented themselves completely preferring to owe the man nothing.
Joey the piano player near the back of the room began to play tunes he knew that Buck liked, making the shift without showing any concern at all beyond professional caution.
It wasn't long before Buck had removed his jacket and pushed back his left sleeve to show off his tattoo to the newcomers. It was a topless mermaid, crudely etched in blue on the inside of his massive forearm.
"I got me this when I was a mate on the Empress of the Sea out of San Francisco."
The cowpunchers who had never seen a tattoo crowded in and gaped openly at the blue image of the nearly naked figure and the girls (who had all seen it before) giggled when he made his muscles appear to make the mermaid swim.
"Didn't it hurt?" one of the young cowhands asked. His eyes were fixed on the line drawing breasts of the image and he was trying his hardest to not make it obvious that he had never seen a real woman naked.
"Not more than a pin prick," the giant said as he drained another mug of beer. He grinned and puffed his chest out, leering at one of the saloon girls so obviously that Molly felt compelled to reach over and swivel his head around to plant a long kiss on his lips.
"I was sore fer a day but it was worth it," Buck said when Molly let him come up for air. "Them island folk do it all the time." He leaned in as if imparting a great secret to the young cowhand. "Them little brown girls don't hardly wear nothin' 'scept a grass skirt all the time."
There were quiet gasps from some in the group.
"No!" more than one herder gasped.
"Yer fibbin'," one young man who was new to the town said, "Can't be no such place."
Everyone in the room who knew better inhaled with anticipation of some sort of explosion.
"What'd you say?" Buck asked with a crocodile smile on his broad face.
Molly knew him well enough that she backed away from him and pressed her back into the bar.
"I said t'ain't no such place," the tall thin wrangler said. He was a freckled faced boy of no more than eighteen with rough cloths that seemed to big for him and a shiny new six-gun stuck in his belt to proclaim his arrival at manhood.
"You callin' me a liar?" Buck asked in a quite voice. Before the cowpoke could answer Buck smashed the beer mug across the man's face, shattering the thick glass and spraying blood and beer across the front of everyone around the pair.