The Wagon’s Trail, by Joseph S. Pulver

(for my brothers SCS & HFP)
by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

Near two years gone by—
lot of open sky with just our own.
dismal as
not to be
understanding you misplaced.
folds of blue shadows and timber.
Hell hard. some days just as hot. bitter.
nights camp smoke and fire couldn’t soften the cold.
lot of nameless little towns, some marshalin’.
hired. facing a knife
or boots filled with dumb and don’t.
some gun work.
so much blood.
whiskey on the table
or dry
taste for blood approaching.
views come, raised their heads, a few cried obsession. Most just shifted rode yon in search of gold by the bucketfull.
sun anger whiskey
knives stripping spilled laughter
saloon trouble
‘round and in thickness of hammered shit, mining camps, taking muscle, stood before word and deed and brooked no sin or plague or urge of bullshit West disease.
big trouble one night in a graveyard where boots and what stood in ‘em rose from a casket grabbed a whore
and ate . . .
so much blood.
rode where we rode . . .
kil’t what was needed to be dead.
never wiped our mouth with an excuse
or the face of a lie.
more than a few ’casions things cast off by the travels of the Black Man crossed our path . . .
North or South seemed his hand had been there.

they could see the woman. damned by The War.
chewed her.
eye to heart.
left dry.
mad. swollen with dirt and worm.
no cross or pleasure ever set its passages of fire in her shack.
or in her breast.
some drum the riders can’t hear plots in her nails, in her legs.
the tombmouths of its arcane maggots claw in her belly.
carved and scarred her skin is exposed myth.
witch is hollerin’ up at the moon.
howlin’ for the hole to open.
“DRIVEN! They desire the throne.”
she ain’t ever heard the word galaxy but what spirit fills the other one is a powerful fact that foams on her tongue.

they all came West.
brought dreams.
the nightmares too.
brought things put down on the land and paper.
carried bibles.
music didn’t last.
didn’t grow.
hardship and hate sharpened their teeth on hillside and earth.
lot of lambs fed the faces of the sky gods.
got fed to cannibals.
and vultures.
injins died. some by gun heat. some by subterranean portions that blasted the air like poison.
her heart spent some years over the well.
spit coarse language into its isolation.
shadows get pulled away.
night loose.
the creaking and
the red desire shine.
picked a road
want things
want to step forward.
wanted free of the rope.
“Place reeks of battlefield and brimstone, Tristan.”
“You read some of them old poets. Spoke of angels and bells. How they strolled places where leaves could spread out.”
“Figure they ever saw night yellin’ and burnin’ flesh?”
“Some did.”
“I should have just rode up and shot her.”
Bart pokes the campfire with a stick.
years and miles are sittin’ with him tonight.
rivers of black things. both are.
pokes the fire some more.
“You recall that fat whore I used to go off with back in Tombstone? Jewel. Times I miss her. Could make a man laugh.”
“You mentioned that.”
“Did. Yes.”
pokes the fire again.
“Get a bottle and lay in her bed. She could put color in your blood . . . Man needs to see livin’ some times.”
pokes that fire.
‘gain –no ease in his fingers. as if’n he’s tryin’ to get it to lie down and mind his ministrations.
jabs at it.
coals snap.
hellfire gets popin’.
“Been what? Near two years since we seen that . . . Wagon.”
mention of it opened thoughts.
hammered on me like I was some old pasture fence in the consequences of weather.
“Two years throbbing and burnin’ with Leviathan. Not sayin’ I was ever much on The Bible, but seems it should speak to this. Ever ponder on why it don’t?”
“A little.”
“Wonder if she’s still a whore?”
blows on the end of the stick.
Devil poker red.
Black Man’s eyes were red.
night got powerful colder.
none of that afternoon made a lick of sense but we rode away.
“You figure on going to see her?”
“Thought I might . . . Her eyes were pretty. One time she ate some strawberries. Her lips tasted sweet . . .”
Bart settled into his bedroll.
I did the same.
all the brutal and cutthroat harsh we seen I wanted a touch of soft too. got to hopin’ if we walked out of this conflict we’d head that way.
bed and a whore.
I sure would.
right then I would have set down a twenty-dollar gold piece for them.
noon in a bed and no fate of stiff teeth in her favors. just a whore’s quiet breath humming on your belly.
“A saloon. A beefsteak . . . And pretty eyes.”
I looked at the stars. They had not been pretty in a long time.

mid-morning so we’d have the sun with us.
“His vigors is in this witch.”
Traveler nickered.
Didn’t like the place.
none of us did.
“Bad as the Gil place.”
“Maybe.” Maybe worse. What I truly thought.
The Black Man’s breath had danced here.
the dust and the scarred air still held it.
didn’t ride in hard.
or fast.
didn’t ride in with nothin’ of the Good Lord.
.8 gauge.
Bart’s eye and hand steady
and burning.
mine coverin’ a vein of cold fear.
near naked but for a few rags didn’t seem correct to call clothing she came runnin’ at us with a stick. snake skulls and rattles hung from it.
most won’t push their rhythm at a gunman.
but she was smilin’. licked by mad leanin’ at us like a dog seekin’ to write its shape over a piece of meat.
barkin ‘ –one voice yet it conversed like a whole pack of tongues.
nostrils snortin’.
fist stretched and polished with dead.
black-poisoned Spanish loud as any wild storm rushin’ to tear.
fast glowin’ with wraithbreath she’s hissing ‘bout ancient exhumations, ‘bout a corpse boiled in wieldin’ words,
‘bout what the Sphinx gnawed ‘pon,
‘bout shutters opened . . .
Bart’s shot scalped her.
and she kept coming.
words got hotter.
Devil’s poker hot.
soul’s burnin’ in Hell loud.
and came
forever was in her and it was shaking.
Black Man’s voice came out of her.
flapped like a fever of injin knives.
.8 gauge peeled the flesh of her skull –shaved it bald
it smiled.
jaws—a thicket of hatred, opened wide
war-whoop wide
spoke: “Ain’t near ‘nough to stub His Truth.”
Bart put 4 shots in her heart.
she was on her knees.
I had reloaded and let loose again
-throat ripped away by lead teeth,
skull on fire with
demonflame fire
she laughed
thick and compelled.
pierced the ears
with talons and
and the ledges of old curses.
we jumped down from Will and Traveler
our pack mule, Iron, stood there hard as a post.
pressed the .8 gauge to her breast
turned her heart to wind fodder –maybe the little animals with mouths that owned night could pan
started to make some gesture in the air
Bart shot her hands off
growled and snarled at him
“You will wander to the torch of my harvest, Mister Rossevelt, and our dance will continue.”
then it fell
face down in the burned sand
didn’t twitch
one wisp of black smoke from its dark hand
air was thick with gunsmoke and contempt
I was breathing hard
looked down on it
buzzard food
if they dared come down on it
Bart started collectin’ wood
planned to dissolve it in fire
I helped
burned her shack
didn’t wander out of there
rode hard . . .

2 weeks in the saddle . . .
Me and Bart. Bottle on our table in the barroom of the Grand Hotel.
Jewel laughing.
Mexican whore named Maria. She laughed pretty too. Pretty as the painted sky.
Breathed in that story for two weeks.
Over warm biscuits and coffee one morning Bart said, “I’ll be damned, Tristan. Ain’t just waitin’ on the schemes of ruthless to ride into our camp and lay claim my soul. Time to go hunting.”
I picked up my seago. Put the fire of a match to it.
Thought of Con. Heard him say: “Man should do good work, or damn sure try to. If’n he don’t, he ain’t no man.”
Smiled. Resolve and grim in it.
4 days later we got on train headed East . . .
Wheels in motion . . .
Night into light . . .
The whistle . . .
I’ve only been home, back East, once since The War ended . . . To bury my Mother . . .
Scourge and drama of rugged crossed the border to civilized . . .
The whistle . . .
Colors in the hands of the windows . . .
Far draws near.
The whistle.
Arkham, Massachusetts . . .
Lot of finely-tailored ladies and gents on the sidewalks took note of the .8 gauge resting in the crook of my arm as we rode along College Street . . .

[MMM – various cowboy songs]

Copyright (2011) Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., is the author of the Lovecraftian novel Nightmare’s Disciple, and he has written many short stories that have appeared in magazines and anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror and S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings and Spawn of the Green Abyss and many anthologies edited by Robert M. Price. His highly–acclaimed short story collections, Blood Will Have Its Season and SIN & ashes were published by Hippocampus Press in 2009 and 2010 respectively and as E-Books by Speaking Volumes in 2011.

Joe is currently editing 2 anthologies for Miskatonic River Press. A Season in Carcosa and The Grimscribe’s Puppets will be released by MRP in 2012.

You can find his blog at:

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Illustration by mimulux.

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7 responses to “The Wagon’s Trail, by Joseph S. Pulver

  1. I miss you too my dear brother! & yer contribution to this iss is FAB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    HUGssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssSSSssssssssssssssS! !!

    But I want to know how the hell I typed “HFP” in the dedication when it should be WHP? Perhaps it was my 1st thought was “to & Hopfrog” then thought better make it WFP, and the dumb-brain mixed it all up?? YIKES, this madness, seems it really has taken hold…………


  2. Really excellent and bleedin’ disturbing as usual. The narrative becomes hypnotic and casts a spell, especially when read aloud. How strange to be so brutalized by poetry! How cool that it is so! And this is one reason I love Mike’s Lovecraft eZine, because it takes chances and gives us such wondrous VARIETY. This issue is especially eclectic, so many different kinds of visions and voices! Love it! Miss ya, Brother Joe.


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