Gunslingers, horses, saloons, dusty trails and badlands. These are the classics, the images that seem to embody the Western Genre, but what seems to truly define the genre is a theme of living virtuously in a kill-or-be-killed world. More than a model, it’s a question… how do you live well in a world that has gone crazy, when your own principles are in conflict with each other?
Sometimes the answer is clear, sometimes it is smudged, other times the question is left unanswered.
Sometimes the protagonist offers a model of virtue and selflessness, sometimes sin and vengeance.
In Carl’s debut short story “The Hard Type,” originally published by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, we meet Hank Garnier. A 14-year old boy in the badlands of rural California during the wild 1960s. The scenery has changed, but the motifs and themes remain relevant. Will Hank show us the path of righteousness when his manhood is tested violently, or will he succumb to his own viciousness?
Find out in “The Hard Type”. Read the excerpt below or for the full story, you can purchase a back issue (Sept./Oct. 2014 issue) digitally at Magzter.com. The issue also features a short story form Charlene Harris, creator of the True Blood series.
Excerpt from “The Hard Type”:
Outside it was already hotter by ten degrees in two minutes, and there was this biker struggling with one hand to unlatch the door of Goodman’s truck, the other hand like a vice around the wrist of the gas station cook. The cook cried, twisting viciously without much effect.
“Stop,” Hank said, siting steady down the rifle’s barrel.
The biker dropped the keys and spun the woman into his body. He snapped open the familiar lock-back knife. Put it to the woman’s throat. It creased the skin slightly and a thread of blood leaked out. She stopped screaming.
“Let the lady go, now.” Hank’s voice was almost a whisper.
The biker sneered. “Why?”
Then from behind, Hank heard, “It’s all done now.”
Mr. Goodman unsteady but on his feet. Hank thinking he had about five seconds to make up his mind. Thinking he was going to have to kill this man or the woman was a gonner, help not coming. But the biker surprised him. Let go of the woman and ran for the pistachio grove, disappearing behind a tree, then another. Hank was behind him.
The biker was stupid, slow and loud. Hank quiet as mouse, heard him the whole way. Boots pounding, breathing hard through his mouth as he went deeper into the orchard and its low shadows. Heard this biker cussing when branches snagged him. Heard him sliding around in the dirt. Registered the unmistakable sound of a man tumbling to stop maybe six trees ahead and two rows over. Hank crept up easy-does-it until he was level with the man and found the biker crouched only one row away, not seeing Hank, looking over his shoulder, knife ready, expecting somebody to come up behind him, still panting.
“Don’t you move” Hank said, not scared of this man with the knife, but frightened by his own steady hand.
The biker flinched. Surprised. But he recovered quickly. He squared off on Hank, fist balled, white knuckles around the knife, holding it low. He grinned.
“Shit son, go ahead and shoot. Unless you’re too chicken-shit.”
“Just don’t move.”
“I think maybe you are chicken-shit.”
Hank eyed the guy down the barrel of the rifle. The creep dug his toes in the soft earth, ready for action. A deadbeat, freaked totally out of his mind. Grey tongue flicking between cracked lips. Pinhole pupils dead-center in those wild, flat, immobile eyes. Completely tense rigid, and getting stiffer by the half-second. White knuckles, white froth cornering his lips. White-hot fury building and raging though his poisoned veins. Hank Garneir’s world fell silent in the awesome moment of total anticipation. Ionized air filled the space between the man and the boy, static bridging the gap between opposing charges. It was that silent dazzling instant of negative charge before the bright flash of violence and the thunderclap of mortal clash.