Here is an exerpt from my latest story, Time Trails, featured in the Mammoth Book Of Time Travel to start off your new year. I hope you enjoy it. There are plenty of steam punk elements through out the story and this partial holds a clue to some of them.
June 29, 1886
Texas Ranger Rand Cobb nudged the toe of his boot against the swollen mass at the bottom of the wash. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow before settling back on his head. It was hot. The kind of hot that made you wonder if hell would be just as bad. Thinking about the heat wasn’t making this job any easier.
He’d seen men who been in the water awhile. Just like cows they would bloat up and then the skin would burst beneath the hot West Texas sun but this…it looked as the body had been chopped up, randomly stuck back together, and then cooked in a pot until it melted into an indistinguishable blob. And that was before it got caught up in the flash flood that carried it down the canyon and left it half buried in the sand.
He dropped down into a squat and gave it a closer look. Unfortunately for Rand, he recognized it, or maybe he should say a part of it. “Hell’s sweet heat!” His horse, Joe, twisted its ears at his curse and looked at him curiously.
The face, what was left of it, bore a distinct scar that ran from a missing ear to the corner of its mouth. He jumped back when a scorpion crawled out of the open mouth and quickly scuttered into the rocks that littered the river bank. Joe pawed the ground behind him and tossed its head as it stretched its lower lip out and waggled it back and forth.
“Go ahead. Laugh it up, Joe.” Rand knelt back down to look at the body. “I’m sure Hank thinks it pretty funny.” There was no doubt in his mind that he was looking at Hank Miller, who was supposed to be on his way to the Federal Prison in Leavenworth along with two other prisoners. His partner, Tom, was their escort. He’d been on the trail of the entire group after the prison wagon turned up empty and burning at the bottom of a ravine. The driver had been alive, barely, and gasped out something about the attack coming from the sky before he’d died of his wounds, which were as big as a mystery as his last words. He had a big round hole in the middle of his chest like someone or something had stuck a red hot poker clean through him.
Since the driver’s last words kind of went along with something a copper miner had said after stumbling into down a few days earlier, Rand had centered his search in this particular canyon. The miner reported strange lights at dusk, a boat that floated in the sky, scorpions made from steel and fire arrows. And that was before he downed a bottle of whiskey.
This was not what he expected to find. Not at all. “What happened to you?” he said to the mess before him. He took his hat off again and wiped the sweat from his brow. The sun was merciless, the thunderstorms from the night before the forbearers of extreme heat as if the lightening he’d watched from his shelter had boiled the air. He looked upstream. What ever had killed Hank and left this mess had to have occurred up the canyon somewhere.
“Guess there’s nothing left to do but bury you, or what’s left of you.” He went to where Joe browsed among some gorse bushes and yanked the small shovel from his pack. He took his shirt off and hung it over the saddle as he loosened Joe’s bit. “Don’t get lazy on me.” The horse that had been his faithful companion for the past twenty years. “This is the last trip for you and me. Once this is over and we get back to Laredo I promise its nothing but sweet grass and fat mares.”
Sweat dripped down his chest as he dug a hole far enough back from the river bed to keep Hank from washing out in the next flash flood. Finally he was content with the depth of the hole and went back to where the body lay. Another hour under the hot sun had not helped its condition one bit and Rand looked at it in distaste. Luckily he was wearing gloves and he finally reached down and grabbed the pulpy mass around what he thought could possibly be shoulders and pulled it from the sand.
What came with it made Rand jump back a good ten feet. There was another body. Or was it? What was between them was a twisted mass of…something…but beneath there was another part of a face.
“Tom!” Rand turned his head and heaved up the contents of his stomach. He wiped his mouth on his arm and covered his bile with some sand before turning once more to look at what was left of Texas Ranger Tom Jacks. Something protruded from his torso, something sharp and shiny, like the blade from a sword. Rand covered his mouth and swallowed hard as he pulled the piece of metal from his friend’s body.
It was unlike anything he’d ever seen before. About three feet long and hinged in the middle so that the piece flexed, like a knee or an elbow. Rand moved the piece, up, then down and marveled at the intricate craftsmanship of whatever it was. The tip of it was as sharp as a razor and sliced open the finger of his glove.
“Tarnation!” He started to fling the piece away, then thought better of it and took it over to Joe, wrapped it in a piece of hide and stuffed it in his saddle bag. Then he grabbed the bodies and dragged them over to the hole and rolled them in. He shoved the dirt over the hole, packed it down with the flat side of the shovel and gathered as many rocks as he could find to place over the grave.
“Damn…Tom…” He stared up stream for a moment, then back down at the grave. “I’ll find who done this…I swear.” Rand pushed the shovel into his pack, swung up on Joe’s back without bothering to put his shirt on and rode upstream. He’d had enough of that place.