Jessica West

Dear Friends and Readers,

I've recently connected with Julie via Facebook, where she graciously welcomed me into her community of independent authors. I was fortunate enough to have procured a featured spot on her blog, Julie's Book Review. Thanks a bunch for having me today, Julie!

I've done an author interview at my blog with the lovely, exuberant (not to mention talented) Meg Collett, author of The End of Days trilogy. I've participated in a cover reveal, promoted plenty of independent authors and their books, and even helped out in a book bomb for Ken Mooney's Godhead. But I've never been a featured author, per se.

If you look closely, however, in just the right light, you'll find me all over the place. I've answered 10 Statements for Karen Oberleander over at My Train of Thoughts On..., and written outrageous and entirely inappropriate writing advice articles over at Prose Before Ho Hos. I recently finished a stint on the judges panel at Flash! Friday. I love this community, and am grateful to be a part of it.

Since April 2013 I've written quite a few flash fiction tales of various genres, using the medium to learn about writing, my own voice(s), and find my niche. I'm still working on all of that. I have a feeling it's a lifelong endeavor, one I'm looking forward to.

My most recent adventure into writing came in the guise of a weird west novelette inspired by the guys behind Whiskey and Wheelguns. I wrote a short story for Prose Before Ho Hos (same guys behind W&W) and was content to leave it at that for a while.

I'd toyed with the idea of bringing back the protagonist in that story, who'd survived a scuffle with a group of vampires only to be hanged for killing them. Naturally, the sheriff of that town had thought she'd killed people, not monsters. They knew nothing of the threat that loomed not far away.

When W&W Ringleader R.A. Williamson suggested I write under the Whiskey and Wheelguns banner, I jumped at the opportunity. Not even exaggerating, I literally dove right back in to the story. Wrote 10k words in a few days, I was that excited.

The short story I wrote works as a prologue to the novelette I'll be publishing in August. I've included that story right here in the post, or you can read it at its original location at Prose Before Ho Hos here: Massacre at Red River Ridge. I definitely recommend you check out their blog, and all the dubious hilarity that ensues when a group of writers get to gabbing.

At the end of this post I've also included a brief excerpt from the novelette, Red River Ridge, coming August 29, 2014.

Connect with me at Twitter @West1Jess, or via e-mail at jpwest6 at gmail dot com. Feel free to drop me a line anytime, I don't bite. Much. ;)

Read more of my work for free at my blog, Write This Way.

Thanks for tuning in, and I hope you enjoy the story.



Massacre at Red River Ridge

The sun rose behind the towering mesas of Red River Ridge, bathing the wide frontier in an orange glow. In the shadows of the natural structures, body parts lay scattered around a heaving, manic Catherine Cartwright. The head of the last teenager she’d decapitated rolled to a stop into the first ray of dawn, and dissipated like mist in high heat. Cat’s sigh matched the whisper of smoke that rose briefly from the hard packed earth where the head had come to rest.
The sheriff rode upon the scene astride his weathered, dappled mare. Cat clutched her machete in one hand and the last gun with ammo in it, her trusty derringer, in the other. Her peacemaker was lost somewhere amidst the piles of viscera and stray limbs. Her pig sticker jutted out of the torso of a raven-haired girl, abandoned in her haste to escape the girl’s gleaming, bared teeth.
Cat’s auburn hair clawed madly at the wind that rushed around the scene. Her bright, hazel eyes rolled wildly in her head. Adrenaline spent, she dropped her weapons and collapsed to the ground, splashing into the pool of blood at her feet.
Sheriff Adam Roberts gaped at the massacre before him. None but the cowboys that rode through these parts had ever taken a cotton to Catherine Cartwright, what with her running a whore house right there in the middle of town, but he’d have never pegged her for a killer. Not in a million years.
He dismounted, cuffed the crazed woman that was just starting to come around, and tossed her across his horse. He walked them both back to town, locked Cat in a cell, and sent for the preacher.
“Catherine Cartwright, you stand accused of murder. What is your plea?” Pastor William Burns served as the town’s judge, and his wife, Annie, as jury.
From her seat on the hard cot in the cramped cell, Cat muttered, “I had to do it. I told you all before, them kids weren’t right. I did what had to be done.”
Annie’s lips drew together in a tight frown. No pity for the wicked. No mercy for those who did not feel remorse.
The sheriff adjusted his guns, and hitched his pants up as far as they would go under his gut. He crossed his arms in front of himself and waited for the judge to proclaim his decision.
“Catherine Cartwright,” Pastor Burns droned again, “you are hereby convicted of four counts of murder. Furthermore, you are sentenced to death by hanging at dawn tomorrow. I will return to hear your final words, should you choose to repent at that time.”
The ominous trio left the rambling woman to make her peace.
“I had to do it.” She murmured until she passed out, exhausted and unaware of anything beyond the horrors of the events of the night before.
Sometime in the middle of the night, the cries of a spooked horse woke Cat from a deep, but troubled sleep. Though she was still played out, the bit of rest she’d gotten had done some good for the clarity of her mind. She sat up on the cot and rubbed her eyes with the filthy heels of her hands. She glared at the bloody grit beneath her fingernails, then at the stony walls of her prison.
They’d tossed her in the cell at the end of the hall. Three cells separated hers from the front office where the deputy was likely sleeping off his latest binge. Theirs wasn’t much of a jail, but four cells were plenty for this one horse town.
“Hey,” she croaked out. She cleared her throat, and did her best to summon the voice that had melted plenty of men’s constitutions before, and tried again. “Hey, Jesse!”
He snorted awake, dropping his boots to the dusty, plywood floor. “Whassat?”
“Jesse, come here.”
His spurs jingled with every thud of his boots. Cat had always thought such things were silly and frivolous. Like a child with a set of shiny bells at Christmas time.
“Now look here, Cat. You ain’t gone cause me no trouble, now, are ya?”
“I wouldn’t dare, Jesse. But listen a moment, Love. You and I know this is the end of the line for me.” She batted her eyelashes at him, determined to get the last thing she’d ever need from the last man she’d ever have. He wasn’t a bad one, either. Not by a long shot.
Jesse had done more than his fair share of drinking, but it always brought out the best in the quiet, awkward young man. Sober, he was reserved, respectful, and painfully shy. With a few drinks, he was down-right charming.
Cat let her gaze roam down his shirt, where a few open buttons gave a generous glimpse of his already thick-haired chest. In her saloon, he’d always stopped just shy of following her upstairs, and she’d never pushed. Tonight, though, would be different.
“You and I can help each other.” He opened his mouth to protest, but she interrupted him before he could assume the worst. “I want pen and paper, Jesse. I got some things I need to say before I go. Things I don’t rightly know how to put into words just yet. Things I don’t want to say aloud. Will you bring me pen and paper?”
He looked skeptical. “That’s all you want?”
Cat did her best to demure, casting her gaze down like a maiden awaiting her first time. She looked up at him beneath thick, dark lashes. “A little company before I get started might be nice.”
With a little more coaxing, Cat got everything she wanted that night. When the sheriff and the pastor came to collect her the following morning, she was ready.
Adopting a patient, fatherly tone, Pastor Burns asked her if she’d like to make a confession. Catherine had but one thing to say.
“There’s two kinds of evil in this world, and in each one of us – the kind we can live with, and the kind we can’t.”
Through the bars of her cell, she offered the pages she’d spent the night writing while awaiting her execution. The sheriff glared at Jesse, who dropped his gaze to the ground.
Sheriff Roberts and Pastor Burns escorted Cat to the gallows where she met justice. Roberts returned to his office in the front of the jail. In a plain wood chair that creaked under his weight, he sat with Catherine’s papers at the simple table that served as his desk.
Sheriff Roberts,
Don’t be too hard on Jesse. You know yourself how persuasive I can be. After all, it’s what I do. I know you don’t understand why I did what I did, and I’m not about to start asking for forgiveness. But if you’ve a mind to hear me out -and I sincerely hope for your sake and the sake of your townsfolk that you do- then read on.
What you saw yesterday was just as you thought it was. I killed them kids, but that’s not all they were. You might imagine it’d be hard to kill a bunch of youngins, and it was, but not for the reasons you’re thinking.
I snuck up on ‘em, shot all four of them in the head with my .45. Every one of ‘em got right back up. I fought tooth and nail just to survive. Those kids were faster and stronger than any man I’d ever had to fight off. The only thing that worked to slow ‘em down was chopping off their legs.
Still, they moved pretty quick, pulling themselves along by the arms. Damndest thing I ever saw. Pulled themselves right over to their legs, tried to put ‘em back on. I’m telling you nothing’s ever beat that sight. I chopped off their arms next. Had to toss the parts away from the bodies, though. The hands gripped the dirt and crawled around like blind puppies looking for teets to latch onto.
I chopped off the heads, and that’s what done ‘em in. Remember that.
If you’ll recall it, I tried to tell you about these kids a couple days ago. I told you what I saw ‘em doing. I told Pastor Burns, too. Hell I told anybody I thought would listen. You all thought I’d gone mad. Probably still do. That’s a burden I’ll bear till my death, but on the bright side, I won’t have to carry it long.
Them kids did their business out at Red River Ridge, right where you found me yesterday. I heard gunshots out there about a week ago. I was never one to get my news second hand from the gossip mill, you know that. So I went to investigate.
You remember that gang of robbers what broke out of Folsom Prison a while back? Three of ‘em had made their way to Red River Ridge. Those kids took down three grown gunslingers in the blink of an eye. Held ‘em down and bit right into their throats. I swear Sheriff, those kids drank the blood of those men until there weren’t nothing left but dried up husks. Their hands curled into fists as they died, arms drawn up against their sides, knees pulled up against their chests. Looked like shriveled up babies.
Believe me or not, but I’m telling you now that’s what happened. I told you all before, them kids weren’t right. I did what had to be done. I did what no one else could do. And I sincerely hope I did enough. If there’s more of ‘em out there, God help you all.
There’s two kinds of evil in this world, and in each one of us -the kind we can live with, and the kind we can’t. I chose the lesser of the two.

The sun sank into a crimson horizon, long shadows of towering mesas fading in the dusky coming of night. A lone coyote dug into a fresh, shallow grave. The dirt he flung out behind him speckled the light of the setting sun, dark fireworks celebrating the coming meal.
He stopped digging and nosed the dirt, sniffing to check his progress, catching the scent of leather, bourbon, and flesh. The coyote resumed his quick pace, eager to sate the ever present hunger nagging at him all the days of his lonely existence. Another coyote howled in the distance, a low growl rose up to strangle the reciprocate mournful cry in his throat.
Another sound came from an unexpected direction, and he paused his excavation. Twitching ears picked up a gravelly sigh, followed by a soft moan beneath him. Once again he put his muzzle to the earth between his paws, smelling the same still-fresh corpse as before. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a nub of flesh growing from the dirt. He yelped and jumped aside, crouching low to watch, anticipating a fight for his meal.
Instead of a snake as he'd expected, a hand emerged, dirt tumbling from shaky fingers. The head and elbow broke loose from the earth simultaneously. The corpse emitted a high screech that got another yelp from the coyote. Spent, the head and arm fell back against the freshly dug ground, perhaps laid to rest for good this time. The coyote could hope, anyway.
He crept closer, extending his neck to sniff from a distance.
He bared his teeth as he drew closer to the corpse, a low whine struggling with a growl inside his chest. Still a few feet away, he stopped to crouch again, the spindly muscles of his haunches tightly coiled and ready to spring away if the corpse moved again.
The coyote inched closer, the whine winning the battle for purchase and climbing up and out. Raised hackles doubled the appearance of his size, but did little to bolster the malnourished creature's courage. The closer he crept, the more he trembled.
Inches away from the head, he closed the distance and sniffed his prey.
The other hand shot up from the earth beneath him and plunged into his body, past his bony chest, gripping his spine. The already freed hand grabbed a fistful of hair at the back of his neck.
The coyote struggled in the grip of the corpse, ripping out his own hairs in a mindless attempt to break free. Droplets of blood from his torn flesh misted the air, falling to sprinkle the lips of the dead woman. The final rays of the setting sun revealed fleshy lids pulling apart, ripping out sutures as they opened over glazed gray eyes.
She got a good grip on the flesh at his neck, now that the hair had been ripped away.
He still struggled, panicked, thinking of nothing but escape. He dug his paws into loose earth and tried to back away, lifting his head up and away from her face.
The corpse slowly opened her mouth, tearing more stitches through the thick flesh of her lips. As though celebrating newfound liberation, the corpse grinned and drove a pair of elongated incisors into the coyote's neck, moaning as she drank from the animal.
When his struggle weakened, she released her grip on his spine to seek out a more substantial source of nourishment.
Kidney. Lung. A heart might be nice.
Realization crept up her spine, scratching against bone with icy bladed fingers, screeching echoes in her mind, Monster.
Three days after they'd hung her for the brutal massacre of a group of teens out at Red River Ridge, Catherine Cartwright rose from her grave.

Connect with Jessica West at Twitter @West1Jess, or via e-mail at jpwest6 at gmail dot com. Read more of her work for free at her blog, Write This Way.

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