It’s back it’s back it’s back! I’m so very excited to have Mooner back in print through Mocha Memoirs Press. Not only did it give me a chance to tighten up parts of the story, but I’ve also been able to include a glossary of Lumberjack Vocabulary, as well! For those who aren’t familiar with the title, this is my take on historical vampire fiction via 1800’s lumber camp life. It combines my love of history, my love of vampires, my love of creepy, slow-burn stories into something that I’m really quite proud of. So let’s take a look, because it’s my blog and I can totally do that.
Like many young men at the end of the 1800s, Bill signed on to work in a logging camp. The work is brutal, but it promised a fast paycheck with which he can start his life. Unfortunately, his role model is Big John. Not only is he the camp’s hero, but he’s known for spending his pay as fast as he makes it. On a cold Saturday night they enter Red’s Saloon to forget the work that takes the sweat and lives of so many men their age. Red may have plans for their whiskey money, but something else lurks in the shadows. It watches and badly wants a drink that has nothing to do with alcohol. Can Bill make it back out the shabby door, or does someone else have their own plans for his future?
And now, let’s have an excerpt since it’s been so very long…
Nancy shuffled back towards the bar, casting a wary look over her shoulder. “Red, he’s back,” she breathed as she scooped up another tray and fled to the other side of the room. Upon closer inspection the youth realized that it wasn’t a pile of something. It was a figure draped in a patchwork of skins then cloaked with half-torn, moldy furs. Most who passed his way quickly avoided him, though whether it was because of his odd looks or his smell it was hard to say.
Red hissed through his teeth and ran a sweating hand through his thick, flame-colored mane. “Tom Haskins,” he mumbled under his breath for the benefit of those crowded around him.
“I thought he lived on the edge of town,” Jack replied, equally low, and glared down the length of the bar.
“He tried to start a dry good store and it didn’t go over too well. He had it in his mind that he could make up his loss with fur, though he ain’t no trapper. Moved out to the woods weeks ago and comes into town every so often to hang round and get his fix. Just when I think he’s finally died out there he comes round again.”
Not once did the saloon proprietor take his eyes off the body hunched over a table. Every breath made his ragtag cloak shudder and every moldy hair on him quivered.
“You want me to kick him out?” Jack offered, already shifting his weight.
“Nah, let him warm up at least. He doesn’t do much; just pesters everyone for drink now that he can’t afford it for himself. Give him time and he’ll be up to his tricks.”
Bill couldn’t stop staring. The pile of sloughed animals slumped as the man’s head rose. His skin was a cold gray and stretched taught across his face and hands. His hair had all but fallen out, but what was still left of it hung in clumps of long, ragtag strands that were paler than dried straw. His thin-lipped mouth was open and he sucked in air in painful, erratic pants.
“Look at ‘im! Actin’ like a piglet pulled away from its ma’s teat!” Big John sneered. “I bet his clothes are fulla maggots!”
“It’s too cold for maggots,” Ben snorted. “His clothes are thin. Wonder how the hell he stands bein’ out in the woods in weather like this.”
“We do it,” Bill muttered.
The recluse’s head jerked at the sound of his voice. The young man immediately snapped his mouth shut.
“Yeah, but we’re used to it! And younger’n he ever was!” John’s voice was purposefully loud and it carried the haughty tone that won him admiration from the other loggers. “He’s durn crazy, that’s why he don’t notice. All that time on your own turn you yaps, man?”
Tom’s head very slowly shifted towards them and Bill shuddered. There were days he’d survived the logging camp and the extreme conditions by willpower and prayer alone, all the while wondering in the back of his head what it would be like if he didn’t have even that. Looking at the vagrant, he knew.
Ben was cursing behind them. “I saw him not more than a month ago and he didn’t look like that. Solitary life don’t turn a man in that short a’ time! Maybe he’s got rabies or fever ‘n’ ague.”
Tom’s eyes sat so far back in his skull that it was impossible to tell what color they were, though they harbored a steady, unsettling gleam. They roved over the huddled group, searching hungrily for an easy mark. Bill’s heart plummeted to his boots when the hollow glitter locked onto him. He was suddenly as cold as he was when a seventh-year blizzard hit. All the frustrations and hell he’d endured since joining the logging team, all his good intentions and reasons, all that he was trying to move forward to swelled and jumbled together in a brief, howling wind of thought. The two distant stars in Tom’s eyes were the only thing that pegged him as a stable man in his otherwise rotting and dozy appearance.
All around the little group the saloon’s weekend life went on. The distant sound of swearing and dice clattering across the floor mixed with discordant harmonies and a half-hearted mouth organ. But in the area by the bar, all was muffled and still. It was like the snows had come without warning over the forest, smothering everything in their path with chilled silence. Bill shuddered and out of the corner of his eye he noticed Red do the same.
“You want I should knock his ears down, Red?” John’s bravado was the sudden yell that knocked the snow from the treetops, for good or ill. He had the relaxed look of a man who’d been in his cup just enough to throw caution to the wind. “I’ll toss him out and give ‘im a case of smallpox he won’t forget!”
“Leave be, John,” the barkeep muttered. His hand never stopped wiping down the bar and though his head was tilted down to his task, his eyes were set on their target across the room.
“What…what you want me to do for a drink?” At first it didn’t register that Tom had actually spoken. His voice was high and reedy and cracked the way the thinnest ice along the river did.
“What you want me to do for a drink?” His lips cracked when his mouth moved. A thin trail of spittle dripped off his lower lip and was quickly caught up by the tip of the derelict’s seeking tongue. The distant gleam in Tom’s eyes burned as his mouth formed the last word. Otherwise, it was hard to say how he’d made it into the saloon; he looked more than a little dim.
The rustle of skirts made Bill look behind him. Nancy had come around once more and was sliding her empty tray on the bar with more hesitation than usual. “Don’t you boys take the bait. Last time he came in here he swallowed a handful of live spiders. I’ve seen him gulp down tadpoles and minnows, too.”
“Why?” Bill breathed, though the word was a vague whisper in his own ears.
“The woods didn’t make him picky, that’s for certain,” Nancy muttered.
“I’ve seen him bite the heads off rodents, and even a chicken. The body still wriggled for a good minute after,” Red agreed. “When he says he’ll do anything, he means it.”
John’s rugged, dirty face lit like a beacon that was up to no good. “Will he now?”
The vagrant scratched himself somewhere under the skins and let himself be regarded by the knot of loggers.
“Whatever you’re planning to do, leave be!” Nancy hissed. “Red, can’t you just pour him somethin’?”
“If I do that for him I’ll end up startin’ a riot.”
“Then we’ll settle this like men,” John breezed, rolling up the sleeves of his mackinaw to show the lines of scars received as proof of his time on skid road. “So what, exactly, will you do for a shot of ol’ Red’s firewater, huh Tom?”
What, indeed, heh.
Also, feel free to check out some blog posts relating to horror and Mooner that I’ve done lately.
A post talking about the different sorts of vampires that I like in fiction and film, with some recommendations is here
A post talking about how family vacations, a love of vampires, and my love of history warped me for life can be found here
And, slightly related, I’m talking about being a woman and writing horror here