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Sunday, 28 February 2010

Who is Arkansas Smith ?

Arkansas Smith is the titular character from my new Black Horse Western, which will be published 31st March 2010 and is available now for order from all the usual outlets. Arkansas Smith is a character I intend to build a series of books around.

There's an interview with yours truly and a feature on Arkansas HERE, there is also an early review of the book HERE

The character was born on a battlefield, in the middle of an Indian attack - a nod to Robert E. Howard there. In fact the Conan adventures were at the forefront of my mind when sketching out initial details of Arkansas. On the surface they are widely contrasting characters but I wanted to recreate that feeling of legend with Arkansas. Other series provided inspiration, maybe not directly but inspiration all the same in my desire to create a series character. George Gilman's Edge also contributed much of the flesh on Arkansas Smith's bones. And although Arkansas is not as much of a bastard as Edge, there are those that would argue he was.

At the moment I am working on a third western for Black Horse, a standalone this time, and when I finish that I intend to start on the second Arkansas book which already exists in outline. Realistically the next Arkansas should see print sometime during 2011. And hopefully readers will enjoy the first adventure next month and be eagerly waiting to discover what happens next to this western legend.

Below is a short extract from the novel:

‘Savages.’ Walter Smith spat and took a look at the carnage around him.

He felt for his rifle on the floor and, with a smile to his wife, placed it on the wagon seat besides them. He could see the concern in Edith’s face and he placed an arm around her shoulder, pulling her tighter to him. ‘They’re long gone. We’re in no danger.’

‘It’s terrible.’ Edith said. ‘Why do they do this?’

‘Don’t look.’ The old man jumped down from the wagon. He gave his wife one of his handguns and took the rifle with him. ‘Just to be on the safe side.’

‘What are you doing?’ Edith asked, fear very much evident in her voice. She was visibly upset which was to be expected since they had just come across a body-strewn battlefield. Not something a woman should see. Not something anyone should see. ‘Come back here.

‘I’ll have to take a look around.’ The old man said with a frown. ‘I won’t be far. Anything happens you holler and I’ll come running.’

Before Edith could protest further her husband started off across the field, stepping around hideously mutilated bodies. There were several burnt out wagons scattered around, a few of them were still smouldering and the smell of smoke and burning flesh hung heavy in the air. There was such an atmosphere that it seemed as if the screams of the dead could still be heard in the air as ghostly echoes of what had happened here.

Walter shuddered and held the rifle tightly to his chest. At his feet there was a dead girl, a child really, no more than ten or eleven. Her head had been split down the middle by a heavy axe. The gory gash parted her head and her eyes were so many inches apart they could have belonged to two different people.

He said a silent prayer and stepped over her.

Everywhere he looked there were dead bodies, many of them with arrows protruding from their bodies, some mutilated, scalped, others with no obvious wounds. Many of them were naked and a good number of them had been burnt, charred clothing sticking to blackened flesh. Ahead of him there were a pile of bodies, maybe ten to twelve people, all stacked up one atop the other. Into this gruesome heap the Indians had shot arrow after arrow and then set it alight only the flames hadn’t taken and it was a ghastly sight.

It looked like some bizarre human totem pole.

Other than the gentle flapping of the canvas on his wagon behind him, there was nothing to be heard, and standing there Walter felt a chill run the length of his spine. The place became eerie in its silence and Walter decided to get out of here and report this at the nearest army post.

Didn’t look like he could do anything for these folks, in any case. The only one who could help them now was the Almighty himself. And it seemed as if he had forsaken this place, relinquished the land rights to the Devil. He looked up into a clear sky and saw several buzzards circling, waiting for him to move on so they could claim the flesh that now belonged to them.

‘I’m coming, Edith.’ He turned and waved to his wife on the wagon. Though she had said nothing and simply sat on the wagon, her face visibly sickened even from Walt’s position. He guessed there were over a hundred people dead here and only a small fraction were Indians.

It gave him the creeps and he tasted bile in the back of his throat.

He started back to the wagon, carefully picking his footing so as not to step on any of the dead when he suddenly heard a movement and froze. He lifted his rifle and turned from side to side on his feet, searching for the source of the sound. But a perfect silence greeted him

You’re getting easily spooked, he told himself. Must be getting old, too soft for this life. But there it was again, a faint sound and he stood perfectly still, listening. It was a whimper and he realised his wife had heard it too. She was standing up in the wagon and pointing over to a burnt out wagon, the skeletal frame looking so fragile that it would blow to dust if the wind picked up some.

Walt started to walk quicker; towards the remains of the wagon and when he got there the sight that greeted him almost stopped his heart. He was a big man and had seen much cruelty in his time but this was like nothing he had ever experienced before and felt a shudder run the length of his spine.

‘Woman,’ he shouted to his wife. ‘Get over here. Bring a blanket and that whiskey I keep under the seat.’

He stood there, silently while he waited.

There on the ground was a woman, she looked unmarked, but was most definitely dead. Between her legs, naked on the ground, was a baby. It was still attached to her by the umbilical cord but where the mother had departed this world the baby, a boy, was still alive but only just. She couldn’t have given birth too long ago and when Walt knelt and touched her she was still slightly warm but there was no pulse, no heartbeat. The woman stared back at him with empty eyes and he closed the lids with fingers.

Left weakened and with no one to tend to her, she must have died giving birth.

The baby though, by some miracle, had made it thus far.

There was at least one survivor of the massacre.

‘My dear God.’ Edith said and stood next to her husband. She held a thick blanket and the half drunk bottle of whiskey. She smiled weakly at her husband. ‘The poor little thing.’

Walt took the whiskey from her, mouthed a long slug and then pulled his Bowie from his waistband. He poured some of the whiskey over the blade, catching the drips under his free hand. He then licked the sodden hand and knelt and held the umbilical chord in one hand and took his knife to it, slicing it clean, close to the baby’s body. There was a quick spurt of blood and the child let out a weak and pathetic cry.

The old man picked the baby up and handed it to his wife and the warmth of the blanket.

The poor mite had felt spindly and weak.

‘Born on a battlefield.’ Walt said.

Had a child ever had a worse start to life?

Edith looked at her husband and her eyes filled with tears. She held the baby close to her, warming its clammy skin. They both knew the child had virtually no chance of survival but they had to try. .

There was a slim chance that they could save the child.

‘Arkansas,’ Walt said. ‘Call him Arkansas. Since that’s where we is.’

‘Arkansas Smith.’ Edith said and smiled when the baby gripped one of her fingers in a tiny fist. He seemed to approve of the name. ‘I think he likes it.’

In truth they had yet to cross the Missouri border and Arkansas was still some miles off. The old man had never been the best of navigators and by the time they reached Fort Comanche and learnt their mistake the name had stuck. Arkansas it would remain. Good job I didn’t think we were in Dung City, the old man had often joked.



PUBLISHED 31st March 2010





1 comment:

Joseph A. West said...

Yeeehah! Great stuff, Gary. I wish you every success with the book. Sounds like another winner to me.
Joe West