Aboard the Airship, US Grant
A demon-haunted airship hurtles to its doom high above the Great Plains.
The Dream Plague at San Sebastian
Nightmare stalks the deserted streets of the desert town, as one-by-one, the children disappear.
I’ve spent my life as a visual artist but am now branching out into prose with these two short stories in the “Wicked West.”
About the ”Wicked West”
Where the tumbleweeds blow, the blood flows in this re-imagining of the wild west. Ghosts, demons, curses, and witches run this lawless wasteland. Eleven stories of a haunted wild west fill this anthology from cult-like faiths and airships to ghosts and witches, there is something out there in the badlands sure to make shivers run down your spine.
Here is the first “Mercy” prose story, Perdition’s Mirrors:
The year is 1875 in another America. The North’s steam-powered technological might has finally crushed the South, but the country is ravaged, and many say demons haunt the land.
The preacher woman looks down on the Carnival from Hell.
She is on a canyon rim in her one-horse medicine wagon—a worn but beautiful thing of yellow-stained pine, curved green roof, intricate wood inlays. Ornate, bannered side panels proclaim:
Sister Mercy Goode’s Traveling Crusade and Medicine Show!
Sister Mercy’s Cure-All: 5¢!
See, Sister Mercy, the Famed Lady Shootist, Perform Feats of Marksmanship: 5¢!
Sister Mercy is a study in black: a wide-brimmed hat, a high-collared dress that sweeps to her ankles, worn leather gloves, scuffed riding boots. A tan, weather-beaten duster and a small, silver cross at her throat provide the only color. Her pale face and green sharpshooter eyes are framed by crimson hair pulled into a single thick braid that stretches down her back.
She is beautiful only in the way a well-honed Bowie knife is beautiful—severe and full of purpose.
Sitting beside Sister Mercy is a girl of about thirteen, in a buckskin jacket, red shirt, canvas britches with a tangled forest of raven black hair that no comb will ever tame. Sheathed on her broad cartridge belt is a Green River knife. There is an eternal glint of mischief in her bright blue eyes. She holds Sister Mercy’s massive Bible in one hand; in the other, a Spencer rifle.
She’s called Pet.
With one booted foot braced against the wagon’s toe board, the Sister gently pulls in the reins. “Whoa, Red.”
In the fading light of sunset, the old-but-powerful draft horse comes to a stop before a weathered sign that reads:
Perdition Mining Company
Scrawled in red on the signpost is a curious sigil of a horned skull.
Seeing the symbol, Pet leans over the side of the wagon and spits. “That charm’s been drawn in blood, Sister. I can smell it.”
Sister Mercy doesn’t reply, continues to look over the drop-off into the long, wide valley below. At the end of this steep trail, lies a large mining camp burrowed deep into the canyon wall. The dig stands out like a gray-colored wound within this desert wilderness of red rock and green brush. It is a drab, industrial place, haphazard shacks, steam-powered ore crushers, drills, and conveyor belts, rising chaotically out of the mud. Massive slag hills poison the small stream that meanders through the excavation.
The mining camp deserted, its industry forgotten, only the half-rusted electro-mechanicals remain—performing their endlessly repetitive tasks. The workers have left their labors to attend the traveling circus in the field next to the mine.
The carnival’s central tent sports the same pagan death’s head that is on the signpost. Emblazoned on the pavilion in large baroque golden letters:
Monsieur Laveau’s World Famous Carnival presents his House of Mirrors!
Arrayed around the main attraction are wagons and smaller tents.
Pet standing in the seat, peers over the tall woman’s shoulders. “Sister, is they the ones we been after?”
“Yes, it’s them.”
Pet interjects hopefully, “We could wait for Nat and the Doc.” A sly look crosses the young girl’s face. “Be plenty of time afterward for you and the Doc to do some sparking….”
The preacher woman sighs. Lord, grant me patience.
“No. We can’t delay and I’ll have none of your sass tonight. These devil-worshippers will be dangerous. That thing below that looks a circus comes and goes with the dusk. It can seep out of this world and into the Borderlands; appearing in another place and time. We were lucky to discover it.”
Pet looks dubious. “Do you trust that Indian lady that told you where to find them? She didn’t seem to like you much.”
She’s not wrong. Spirit Bears has no love for any of the N’daa, the white invaders, that have conquered this continent.
“That thing below is a blight in both the spirit and waking worlds. So, in that much we can trust her—the Medicine Woman would see it driven from her lands.”
Sister Mercy shakes the reins; clicks her tongue. Old Red pricks up his ears as he clip-clops his way down the trail. It’s Pet’s turn to sigh as she works the Spencer’s lever, jacking a round into the chamber, then lowering the hammer to quarter cock. The sun sets as a light snow falls.
Sister Mercy strides into Monsieur Laveau’s Carnival, her Bible in the crook of her arm. She wears her duster like a Samurai wears his kamishimo—attitude and intent, making the simple cloth seem like armor. Pet is behind her on the right, casually carrying her Spenser.
The circus glows red from lanterns hung on tall spindly poles erected throughout the grounds, turning the falling snow crimson. The traveling wagons, not unlike the Sister’s own in function, are grotesque—garishly carved and painted with Sigils of the Gateway, images of copulation, necromancy, human sacrifice. Dead flowers, twisted twine dolls, nuggets of blood-covered candy, green and black candles festoon the caravans—offerings to the Darkness.
The Cult has spread this far west?
Sister Mercy surveys the carnival. Whiskey booths sell alcohol so badly distilled that it is near poisonous. Syphilitic fancy women in spoiled finery display themselves shamelessly before their cribs. Rigged games of chance and skill abound to fleece the rubes. The sickly sweet smell of the Asian Devil Flower wafts from the opium tent. The disturbing, hypnotic music of a calliope pulses through it all.
The only thing missing is the requisite troop of freaks. Mercy finds only one cage of iron bars latticed with electro-silver wires labeled “Wolf Boy.”
An immensely fat carny with a sharpened stick prods a young Were of about fourteen. The boy’s caught mid-transformation between wolf and human form—something terribly painful for an adolescent Shifter. He’s covered in sparse fur, face elongated into a short muzzle, claws growing out of his paw-like hands. The boy is filthy and naked, bearing fresh wounds and the marks of ancient whip scars. Sister Mercy feels Pet beside her—the girl’s trembling thumb on the hammer of the half-raised Spencer.
She puts a restraining hand in that thick jungle of hair. “Not now.”
Pet lowers the rifle, steadies up.
Most unusual in this display of depravity are the listless miners, their slow movements, dull eyes, corpse-white skin beneath the grime, and… there are not enough of them. Far more men must have been working such a vast dig.
As for the carnies, they are, as expected, a surly and suspicious breed, but there is something off about them not so easy to see. The Sister empties her mind of preconception—that a thing shaped like a man must be a man. Then, studies at them from the corner of her eye—that place where the illusion is least effective.
Bile rising in her throat, she sees their true faces.
She looks down at her ward. “Pet, do you remember what I taught you?”
Pet is still staring intently at the freak cage. “Sure, Sister. There ain’t no problem a .45-70 and a shovel can’t solve.”
“Good girl. You’ll know when to start.” The Sister leaves Pet beside the Wolf Boy’s cage and approaches the grandiose scarlet pavilion of Monsieur Laveau’s House of Mirrors.
Before it stands a carnival barker ballyhooing the rubes with an electro-megaphone as he ushers them into the attraction one-by-one.
“Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah! See the Ninth Wonder of the World! Monsieur Laveau’s House of Mirrors!” The barker’s cajoling voice entreats the unwary and the gullible.
The barker looks like a procurer’s idea of a New Orleans dandy from before the War sporting a rakishly tilted dark lavender top hat with a crow feather stuck in it. He has a beautiful, unreliable stage actor’s face.
The barker closes the tent flap with a flourish behind the last of the miners and turns towards Sister Mercy in a mockery of a Southern gentleman’s courtly bow. He straightens with a quizzical, inquiring expression to regard the Sister.
Sister Mercy declares, “I wish to see Monsieur Laveau.”
“Monsieur Laveau?” The thing that looks like a carnival barker laughs gayly. “Monsieur Laveau’s offices are at the center of the Mirror Maze. You must transverse it to find him, but…”
The barker makes a grandiloquent gesture to the sign above the entrance which reads:
Beware All who Enter this Maze!
Your Greatest Desires & Terrors Lie Within!
See this The Ninth Wonder of the World! Only Five Cents!
As the Sister makes no move, the barker, a melodramatic frown on his wide mouth, asks, “Ah, but perhaps, you dare not enter the Labyrinth?”
Sister Mercy stares straight into the barker’s eyes, and although this thing has walked the Earth for a very long time, it takes two steps back, dropping the megaphone. She draws a nickel from her belt, tosses it to the muddy snow, pulls aside the pavilion flap, and enters Monsieur Laveau’s House of Mirrors with only her Bible in hand.
The space is dark and claustrophobic. At first, it’s merely the simple buffoonery of every other attraction of this type, distorting the ticket buyer’s reflection. As she walks through the glass maze, the reflections subtly, then dramatically change. They show her younger, older, infirm, racked by disease. Emotions of joy, desire, despair, love, fear appear and disappear on the images of her face. More than imagery, she feels these things inside herself.
All the while she turns left, turns right, stops, turns around. She does this over and over and over again as the pathway between the mirrors crushes in upon her. It is like she is walking in place, buried alive, standing up as the mirrors dance and twirl about her.
If I stop moving, I will die here.
She keeps shuffling forward. The mirrors now show images of things that were and might yet be. As a girl no older than Pet, wandering alone and wounded on the plains. Besieged in the medicine wagon by the undead citizens of Jericho. The avalanche of attacking werewolves at Wolfshead. Pet abducted by the monster, Angelique, and more….
With the horror, there is beguilement. An overwhelming need to reach out overwhelms her. Half-hypnotized, knowing that she mustn’t—that this is death, the Sister stops, hand almost touching the surface of a mirror—one that shows Pet and her beau, Henry. The mirror ripples; opening to a circular gullet like an enormous glass leech.
She comes to herself, jerking back, nearly falling as the crystal maw explodes forward to engulf her arm. She looks once more at the mirror; it is flat and displays only her true reflection.
The Sister tries to walk again but cannot; her booted feet are moored to the ground as if tarred. She strains as the seconds tick, sweat running down her face. In desperation, she clasps the silver cross at her throat. Her legs come free; she stumbles forward, takes a few steps, and… is no longer in this world. The preacher woman has crossed over to the Borderlands.
It is a vast cavernous space—all of black mirrored glass. Arabesque inlaid columns support a vaulted domed roof. The gleaming floor opens to a large circular pit. The ebon walls hold faint ghosts of the men and women that the maze has eaten—trapped forever in this crystal prison.
She has come to the offices of Monsieur Laveau, the center of the Labyrinth, the Temple of the Mirror God.
A crippling lassitude grips her. She swoons, falls to the floor and, for a while, knows no more.
The sound of echoing steps bolt Sister Mercy out of her stupor. She rises to her feet, sees a man made all of dark-mirrored glass—as if a statue has come to life. His elegant gentleman’s raiment is sculpted to the latest style, but unlike his puppet, the barker, there’s no parody here. Prominent forehead, aquiline nose, cruel lips, demonic eyes show intelligence, and an overwhelming malevolent will. The Mirror God is ancient, glorious, terrible.
The voice that issues from the crystal throat is pure seduction. “It has been an age since Sa-Neheset of the Old Kingdom bound me in this glass prison. The Egyptian sorcerer was that rarity, a true sadist. His spell allowed me to move my jail of glass throughout the worlds but never escape it. Many have sought me out through the millennia—few have come as far as you have, Mercy Goode, but I suppose that was to be expected. Even here, I have heard whispers in the dusk of the wandering vigilante and exorcist who deals out justice with a Bible or a Colt.”
The false god, with a laugh, gestures to his Temple of Glass. “Merciless Goode, God’s Madwoman, the Avenging Angel, the Dark Lady. You have so many names, preacher woman. Tell me, why have you come to my kingdom… and without your pistols?”
Although her face shows nothing, fear is a spider crawling in her mind.
This creature is a god…
She shakes her head.
No! None of that. Remember what Pa taught you. Make your stand. This is just another showdown and you’ve always been the one that walks away alive.
“Monster, I’ve come here to send you back to the Hell that vomited you forth.”
The god’s obsidian eyes glow red as the exquisite, sardonic crystal face twists into a mask of hate. “The righteous make such good eating.”
The thing raises its right arm, fingers splayed as the entire appendage transmogrifies into a quartet of six-foot-long black-glass blades with which it whipsaws into the still-disoriented Sister. One of crystal edge slices her cheek, but the thick canvas of her duster saves her from more laceration. The sword-like fingers encircle and crush her into the icy floor.
Trapped in a cage of glass, the demon draws her in. She works a hand free to rip the silver cross from her neck, thrusting it into a crystal appendage. A searing pain erupts up her gloved hand as the cross turns white-hot—cracking a crystal finger in half.
The god recoils, transfigures, again, polygonal spikes sprouting out all over its body. The thing emits an impossibly high-pitched scream of rage, delivers a twirling blow with the half-amputated but still deadly sword fist that knocks her head over heels, her cross and Bible flying from her hands.
The monster propels itself forward as Sister Mercy scrambles back on the slick surface, desperately swiveling this way and that, searching for her Bible.
Yes! There it is!
She rolls under and away from the creature’s stabbing arms, dives, slides across the floor. One of the monster’s blades catches her boot, brings her up short… but with one outstretched hand, Sister Mercy’s fingers close on the spine of her Bible.
With casual strength, the God of the Labyrinth tosses the Sister onto her back as she hugs the Bible to her chest. The demon’s face splits open from forehead to neck to reveal row upon row of gnashing, needle-sharp teeth.
It surges forward to feast.
Sister Mercy, her hand faster than a striking rattler, flips open her Bible, draws what she has hidden in the hollowed-out space: a sawed-off Colt Dragoon. She fires—a deafening explosion rocking the temple of mirrors. The crosscut silver bullet smashes a chasm through the things head.
The god scrambles back, nursing the crater of a wound. It tries to squirm its broken body back into the pit as…
Sister Mercy fans the horse pistol, putting five more .45-70 silver slugs into the god. With a burst of dead light, the monster shatters, shards of glass exploding outward. Mercy crouches, arm over her eyes, as what remains of the Mirror God teeters on the edge of the pit… and falls.
She rises, the emptied Dragoon and Bible in hand. The Temple of Glass gone; she is in an ancient, tattered circus tent. The mirrors are just mirrors, now, all broken.
When she emerges from the tent, heavy snow covers the circus. Finds the miners gone, the carnies half-chewed scarlet mounds as she looks for the carnival barker. She finds a trail of torn clothing, ripped dead flesh, and ancient blood leading away into the brush.
After a time, she comes upon the barker tangled in the sucker net—a shoddy, temporary fence designed to keep the rubes in. The thing’s legs are useless—savagely hamstrung. It is recognizable only by its disheveled gentleman’s clothes.
The Mirror God’s puppet turns on its back, glamour gone—now only the re-animated corpse of a man who has been dead, a very, very long time. Lank hair covers a desiccated face in which the bone and gristle poke through. Eyelids and lips have shriveled to reveal soulless black eyes and a mirthless, scimitar grin of teeth. Like all the carnies, like all the servants of the Mirror God, this is one of the living dead.
The zombie, still human enough to plead for its “life,” croaks in a liquid gurgling voice, “Pl-please…h-have…mercy!”
She loads a single silver bullet into her Colt, cocks the hammer. “Mercy is just my name.”
Sister Mercy finds Pet near the freak cage, helping a silent boy with mournful eyes into a heavy coat too big for him. He still has a trace of blood on his lips.
Pet looks up. “Sister, this is James.”
Mercy puts her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I’m pleased to meet you, James. You’d best come with us.”
The Sister and Pet silently regard each other, one with a thin, bloody slash across her cheek, burned glove, torn duster coated with glass dust; the other with a near-empty cartridge belt. The acrid bouquet of gunpowder on both. Another war in the wastelands fought and won.
The Sister breaks the spell. “Pet, did you…”
“Yes, Sister,” Pet breaks in wearily, “I dug out all the silver slugs I used.”
She picks up a small, bloody leather bag from the frozen ground; shakes it producing a metallic rattle. “For already being dead and all, those zombie-carnies took loads of killing.”
Turning to the boy, she says, “James helped.”
The shy boy quickly glances worshipfully at Pet and just as swiftly casts his eyes back down to the ground.
“The miners?” The Sister asks.
Pet laughs, “They all skedaddled when they saw what the carnies really looked like. I expect they’ll all be hiding under their bunks right now.”
“Oh, and see what I found!” Reaching behind her, she picks up the Barker’s electro-megaphone.
The Sister smiles, nods. “All very good. Time to mount up and move on to San Sebastian. We can leave James with the Carstairs on the way.”
“Sister,” Pet whines, “the sun ain’t going to be up for at least another couple of hours.”
“I told you none of your sass.” The Sister considers the carnage that was Laveau’s Carnival and strokes Pet’s raven black hair. “You did well, Pet.”
Smiling, Pet picks up her Spencer, pulls James by the arm, goes to find Old Red and the medicine wagon.
Sister Mercy looks back at the ragged circus tent.
Is the god truly slain or released into the world? Have I vanquished the Devil or served it?
Filled with a sudden tiredness, she turns away and follows Pet.
From graphic novel to prose
“Mercy” began its life as a motion book, online comic, and graphic novel. Here are some images from those projects, including the most recent concept graphic for “Aboard the Airship, US Grant.”
Former desert dweller and corporate refugee, Jon Gerung is a writer, illustrator, and multimedia designer who now lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and a troop of dogs.
Avid reader, radio drama fan, and artist who enjoys creating in a wide variety of mediums.
Jon Gerung has published graphic novels, interactive motion books, and most recently, prose short stories.
You can find out more about his projects at: