Authors: Chris Barili
Tags: #Dark Fantasy, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Literature & Fiction, #Westerns
Book One in the Hell’s Butcher Series
Hell’s Marshal Copyright © 2016 by Chris Barili
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. For permission requests, please contact the publisher.
Formatting by Rik -
Wild Seas Formatting
Cover art by Michelle Johnson of Blue Sky Design
Edited by Jennifer Severino
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and they also say that a book is like an author’s offspring. So it stands to reason that it takes a village—or more precisely a kind of extended family—to write a book. I’d like to thank the members of that extended family, without whom Frank Butcher and his posse would never have hit the page.
First of all to my wife, Jennifer, and my kids, who had to put up with my endless hours researching, brainstorming, plotting, writing, revising, griping, complaining, and drinking: I love you all. I do this because you all inspire me.
To Russell Davis, who taught me to write outside my box and Michaela Roessner, who made me write inside some very tight ones. And to my cohorts from Western—you guys keep me going when I’m ready to give up, and you keep writer’s solitude from becoming isolation.
Finally, since I wasn’t around in 1892, I turned to the following expert historians to make sure the basic facts about my settings were straight. They’re all volunteers, by the way, doing the yeoman’s work of keeping our past alive that we might learn and thus not repeat its mistakes:
Bob Seago and Johanna Gray, Creede Historical Society, Creede, CO
Hayes Scriven, Executive Director, Northfield Historical Society, Northfield, MN
James Thorn, Clay County Museum, Clay County, MO
Christopher Harris, Resident Historian, Clay County Archives, Clay County, MO
Turned out Hell looked a lot like a jail cell, only with bars of fire and a mattress stuffed with shards of glass. Frank Butcher hated the time he spent in his cell, even though the only alternative was the pit of fire they threw him in for punishment on a regular basis. At least he felt like he deserved those periods of horrific and agonizing pain, like they were just punishment for the things he’d done. For the people he’d killed.
One in particular. For Ron.
In the fires, only sheer agony and terror filled his mind, eclipsing all else and making it impossible to even think. Here, in the broiling cell, his mind had space to wander, to make trips back to the things he’d done that put him here. That was the Devil’s way of torturing him, by dragging him back to the past and making him relive the most horrible of his deeds. A constant reminder he’d hurt people, robbed innocents of their lives, and killed the one person he, as a father, should never have harmed.
The fires cleansed him of those memories, wiped him clean for however long they lasted—Hell stole his sense of time—but returning to his cell always re-caked his soul with the filth of murder.
No, Frank would take the searing, purging agony of the fire pit over this any day.
He paced the confines of his six-by-ten rectangular prison, his boot heels clacking on the hard floor. After taking off his leather gloves, he ran his fingers through the burning bars just to remind himself that pain still existed. Pain worked differently here—his body had died, so pain should have too—but he didn’t care. As long as he could suffer.
Frank trudged to his bed and flopped onto the mattress. Pain erupted in his back as sharp glass edges and points shredded his skin, ensuring every inch of his back was cut. The sticky warmth of his own blood oozed into the material, causing it to cling to him when he shifted. The discomfort filled a hole in his heart.
He stared at his forearm, at the fleshy latticework of scars there, a net of painful reminders. Frank discovered the act of slicing himself by accident. While stalking his cell, tortured by his memories and guilt, he’d brushed his arm against a nail in his bed frame, and for that frozen instant, his pain had been all physical, his mind momentarily free of its torture and suffering while it focused on the physical pain.
He’d started using the nail, intentionally rubbing his arm on it to draw blood and cause pain. Only surface wounds, but at first, they were enough. Soon, though, his internal anguish overpowered the minor pain, and Frank needed more, something deeper. So he’d taken a shard of glass from the mattress and sliced the back of his arm, pressing deep and wincing, almost crying out, while the sharp edge bit through skin and flesh.
Now he had scars everywhere, not just his arms. His chest, his thighs, his calves, hands, and feet. A mesh of thin scars—the wounds healed overnight here—connected pain from one part of his body to another, uniting him in a network of suffering, a web of sorrow.
Frank’s mind wandered for a moment, allowing the image of a boy to fill his vision, a boy with dark skin and a hook nose, but eyes that could only be Frank’s. The boy—just short of a man, really—gazed up at Frank while a puddle of blood grew under his head, soaking into the dirt. Frank’s heart broke all over again as he watched his son die.
Something skittered in the pitch black outside his cell, an insect sound, saving him from the pit of despair he’d fallen into.
They were coming for him. Finally.
The sound neared his cell, a clacking of chitin on granite—or whatever the floors of Hell were made of. A moment later, a pair of black antennae poked in through the flaming bars.
Part cockroach and part human, Damon’s hard outer shell ticked on the floor as he rose up on the rear of his six legs. He wiggled his antennae, searching for Frank. His human face was puffy and swollen, and he never opened his eyes anymore, preferring the senses of the bug with which Hell had fused him.
“Frank Butcher?” he asked, his feelers waving in Frank’s face.
“You know it’s me, Damon. You know everyone here. Let’s go. I need the pain.”
Damon flinched back from the bars as if their flames had somehow hurt him.
“No fffire pit for you,” he hissed.
Frank stepped back from the bars, apprehensive. This was supposed to be his fate for all eternity. There’d never been a deviation before. Why now?
“What are you talking about? Is this some kind of trick?”
He’d never known the bug-man to make a joke.
Damon rubbed his front legs together as his middle ones unlocked Frank’s cell. “They want to sssee you.”
Frank retreated to the predictable pain of his cot, resisting the urge to curl into a ball on the glass-filled mat.
“Who?” In his heart, he already knew and was hoping Damon would prove him wrong.
“What the Hell do they want?”
Damon shrugged with his two pairs of free legs.
Frank turned his back on the jailer. “Then tell them they already judged me. They don’t get to do it twice.”
“It’s not your choiccce. Disssobey them at your own risssk.”
Frank shot him a glare over his shoulder. “What more could they possibly do to me? Tell the judges I said to piss off.”
Damon made a tsking sound, and Frank heard him open the door.
“Very well,” said the jailer. “Hul will make you.”
Frank whirled, but an instant too late, as iridescent tendrils whipped around his arms and legs, shooting bullets of fire through his extremities and into his chest. Before him stood Hul, a featureless creature, roughly the shape of a man, but with dozens of finger-like, glowing tentacles sprouting from each shoulder. As they attached themselves to Frank’s body, each one sent a jolt of agony through his spine.
An instant later, Frank lost control of himself, his arms thrashing and jerking, his legs dancing an obscene jig. He fought for command over his body, but every time he did, tiny shocks pulsed into him.
“Ssstop resisssting,” Damon ordered. “Hul will make it worse if you fight him.”
Frank fought a moment longer, but fatigue rushed over him and he gave in. To his surprise, he didn’t fall. Instead, he walked, in spasmodic jerks and movements. Frightened, he struggled again, only to be rewarded with a series of shocks that left his limbs feeling like jelly and his mind scattered.
He surrendered again, and stepped through the open door. Damon started off down the pitch black corridor, his feet clicking on the floor. Hul moved behind Frank, and compelled him to follow. Frank didn’t resist, couldn’t any longer. His will belonged to the being behind him, the combination of man and Man O’ War who served as Hell’s torturer. As if they needed one.
“Looks like I’ll go see the judges,” he muttered. “Tell them to piss off myself.”
Somewhere ahead of him, Damon’s chuckle hissed through the darkness.
Frank felt like a marionette as he moved herky-jerky down the corridor. The only light came from the glowing Hul, and even that seemed to soak into the walls and floor, making Frank rely on his puppet-master for direction. Twice, he tripped on unseen obstacles, once whacking his shin so hard he cried out.
Hul stopped him and Frank found himself facing a dark, steel-bound double door with no visible knobs or latches.
“This isn’t the courtroom,” he muttered. The last time he’d seen the three judges had been at his own hearing, when he’d been absolved of his crimes but opted for eternity in Hell anyway, his guilt too deep and ingrained for him to ever forgive himself.
“The courtroom wasss in the underworld, Frank Butcher. Thisss is Hell—The Bossss makes the rulesss down here.”
Frank shrugged. “I don’t suppose I’m meeting the head honcho, am I?”
“Just the judgesss. Big Bossss doesn’t know about thisss, and you’d bessst keep it that way.”
Damon opened the left hand door, its hinges creaking up and down the corridor. Cold air whooshed from the room as if it was a sealed crypt, and the stink of death assailed Frank’s senses.
The tentacles released their grip and all Frank’s strength fled him. He fell to his knees as a hundred sparks of lightning flashed across his skin. Gasping for air, as if his entire body had depended on Hul’s power to live, he fought the urge to retch.