Mad Amos Malone, p.1Alan Dean Foster
Mad Amos Malone is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Del Rey Ebook Original
Copyright © 2018 by Alan Dean Foster
“Wu-Ling’s Folly” copyright © 1982 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Fantasy Book.
“Witchen Woes” copyright © 1983 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Fantasy Book.
“Ferrohippus” copyright © 1984 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Fantasy Book.
“Jackalope” copyright © 1989 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
“The Chrome Comanche” copyright © 1990 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
“Agrarian Deform” copyright © 1991 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
“Having Words” copyright © 1992 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
“What You See…” copyright © 1992 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Grails.
“Neither a Borrower Be…” copyright © 1996 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Mad Amos.
“The Purl of the Pacific” copyright © 1996 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Mad Amos.
“Venting” copyright © 2006 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Slipstreams.
“Free Elections” copyright © 2010 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
“Ghost Wind” copyright © 2011 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
“Claim Blame” copyright © 2012 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
“Holy Jingle” copyright © 2015 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Dead Man’s Hand.
“A Treefold Problem” copyright © 2017 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Straight Outta Tombstone.
“A Mountain Man and a Cat Walk into a Bar…” copyright © 2017 by Alan Dean Foster; first appeared in Unidentified Funny Objects 6.
“Stuck” copyright © 2018 by Alan Dean Foster.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
DEL REY and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
All of the stories compiled in this work were previously published with the exception of “Stuck.”
Ebook ISBN 9780525620822
Cover design and illustration: David G. Stevenson, based on images © Shutterstock
The Chrome Comanche
What You See…
Neither a Borrower Be…
The Purl of the Pacific
A Treefold Problem
A Mountain Man and a Cat Walk into a Bar…
By Alan Dean Foster
About the Author
In 1981 my wife and I and our dogs and cats moved from Big Bear Lake, California, into a historic single-story ranch-style house in Prescott, Arizona. We remain today in the same house, surrounded by native vegetation, visited frequently by coyotes and owls and occasionally by bobcats and deer, and bedeviled by chipmunks and pack rats. We chose the place for its location at the terminus of a dead-end road and for the redoubtable materials used in its construction.
At the time, I was vaguely aware that while it did not possess the same name recognition as Tombstone or Deadwood or Dodge City, Prescott could boast of its own substantial Old West lineage, most notably for being the home of the world’s oldest rodeo. This meant nothing to me, as I was not and am not a rodeo fan. When I look at a bull rider, I see hamburger, not a sport.
But the longer we lived here, the more aware I became of Prescott’s unique heritage. Virgil Earp, Wyatt’s brother, was the town sheriff for a while. Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday’s longtime mistress, is buried in one of the local cemeteries. Silent film star Tom Mix had a ranch here and shot some of his films in the area. On a completely different note, the fine western painter Irish McCalla lived here during her last years. Those who recognize the name will more likely remember her as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Even as a senior, she still looked the part. Ran into her on Cortez Street one day but was too shy to say anything.
That has nothing whatsoever to do specifically with Prescott or the Old West, but viewers of fifties TV will understand why I mention it.
Despite living in a town parts of which could (and have) doubled for a film set (see Junior Bonner, with Steve McQueen and Robert Preston…or maybe Billy Jack, or the remake of The Getaway), I never drew any story inspiration from our initial visits nor immediately after we moved into our new home. My ramblings tend to take place on other worlds, or in lands of pure fantasy.
One day my wife and I were standing together contemplating adding incidental items like furniture to our new den. This exercise was complicated by the fact that we had no money, having sunk every bit of it into the house itself. We were also struggling to decide what to put on a second-floor landing that led to a single small upstairs room before continuing onward to, curiously, dead-end against the far wall. I commented that the large empty space over our heads needed something: perhaps a fake stuffed bear.
“Why not a dragon?” JoAnn responded.
“Don’t be silly,” I said. “There were no dragons in the Old West.”
She eyed me archly and without missing a beat shot back, “How do you know?”
Which, as such observations are wont to do, got me to thinking. The result was the first Mad Amos story. I had no thought of doing more than the one.
That was, as those of mathematical bent will note, eighteen stories ago.
It is a pleasure to have them all gathered together here in one volume, like so many chocolates. Or, as Amos Malone would say, shots of whiskey. Feel free to drink deep.
Amos Malone didn’t exist when I began to write Folly. As hinted at already, the story’s genesis involved a dragon. A Chinese dragon, to be precise. I made him a visitor from the Far East because I get tired of your standard European dragon and because such an origin allowed me to place him in the context of the Chinese laborers building the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad. Add in the dragonish affection for gold and…well, the story began to take form from there.
But how to deal with such an intimidating intruder? Who, in the Old West, could handle a dragon? It would have to be someone with knowledge of such creatures, someone unafraid, yet someone who belonged to the environment. I couldn’t just import a white-bearded wizard in a pointy hat to magic a dragon away with a wave of his wand. So…no pointy hats. No wands. No long white beards.
The exploits of the mountain men in the early American West often read like magic. Why not a mountain man who could work a little magic himself? An outsized talent in every sense of the word, but one who retained his essential mountain manness. I’d have to equip him with the right weapons, the right attire, an appropriate mount, and a pair of saddlebags capable of holding, should a particularly sorceral situation arise, more than hardtack and salt pork. Locals would be sure to find such a character passing strange. Maybe even a little bit…mad.
So Amos Malone came into being as a foil for an expat Chinese dragon. And after that, wouldn’t you know it: the dadgum half-crazy sonuvabitch and the worthless steed he rode in on just wouldn’t go away.
* * *
Hunt and MacLeish had worked for the Butterfield Line for six and seven years, respectively. They’d fought Indians, and been through growler storms that swept down like a cold dream out of the eastern Rockies, and seen rattlers as big around the middle as a horse’s leg. All that, they could cope with; they’d seen it all before. The dragon, though, was something new. You couldn’t blame ’em much for panicking a little when the dragon hit the stagecoach.
“I’m tellin’ ya,” Hunt was declaring to the Butterfield agent in Cheyenne, “it were the biggest, ugliest, scariest-lookin’ dang bird you ever saw, Mr. Fraser, sir!” He glanced back at his driver for confirmation.
“Yep. S’truth.” Archie MacLeish was a man of few words and much tobacco juice. He was tough as pemmican and as hard to handle, but the incident had turned a few more of the brown-stained whiskers in his copious beard gray as an old Confederate uniform.
“It come down on us, Mr. Fraser, sir,” Hunt continued emphatically, “like some great winged devil raised up by an angry Boston temperance marcher, a-screamin’ and a-hollerin’ and a-blowin’ fire out of a mouth filled with ugly, snaggled teeth. ’Twere a sight fit t’ raise the departed. I gave it both barrels of Evangeline.” He indicated the trusty ten-gauge resting in a corner of the office. “And it ne’er even blinked. Ain’t that right, Archie?”
“Yep,” confirmed the driver, firing accurately into the bronze-inlaid pewter spittoon set on the floor beside one corner of the big walnut desk.
“I see.” The Butterfield agent was a pleasant, sympathetic fellow in his early fifties. Delicate muttonchop whiskers compensated somewhat for the glow the sun brought forth from his naked forehead. His trousers were supported by overloaded suspenders that made dark tracks across an otherwise immaculate white shirt. “And then what happened?”
“Well, both Archie and me was ready t’ meet our maker.” Hunt was deadly earnest. “You got to understand, Mr. Fraser, sir, this varmint were bigger than coach and team together. Why, them poor horses like t’ die afore we coaxed and sweet-talked ’em into town. They’re bedded down in the company stable right now, still shakin’ at the knees.
“Anyways, this ugly bird just reached down with one claw the size o’ my Aunt Molly’s Sunday dress and plucked the strongbox right off the top o’ the coach, snappin’ the guy ropes like they was made o’ straw. Then it flew off, still a-screechin’ and a-brayin’ like the grandfather of jackasses toward the Medicine Bow Mountains.”
“God’s truth,” said the driver.
“This is all most interesting,” Fraser mumbled. Now, while known as a sympathetic man, the Butterfield agent would have been somewhat disinclined to believe the tale to which his two employees were swearing, save for the fact that MacLeish and Hunt were still standing in front of his desk rather than cavorting drunk and debauched in the fleshpots of Denver, spending free and easy the ten thousand in gold that the missing strongbox had contained.
And, of course, there was also the confirmation afforded by the stage’s three passengers, a reputable Mormon rancher from Salt Lake and two of his wives. At the moment, the ladies were under the care of a local physician who was treating them for shock.
“Couldn’t it have been a williwaw?” he asked hopefully.
“Nope,” said MacLeish, striking with unerring accuracy into the spittoon a second time. “ ’Tweren’t the likes o’ no wind or beastie I ever seed nor heard tell of, Mr. Fraser. I kinna say more than the truth.” He squinted hard at the agent. “D’ ye doubt our word?”
“No, no, certainly not. It’s only that I have no idea how I am to report the nature of this loss to the company. If you’d been held up, that they would understand. But this…There will be questions. You must understand my position, gentlemen.”
“And you should’ve been in ours, Mr. Fraser, sir,” Hunt told him fervently.
The agent was not by his nature an imaginative man, but he thought for a moment, and his slim store of inventiveness came to his rescue. “I’ll put it down as a storm-caused loss,” he said brightly.
MacLeish said nothing, though he made a face around his wad of fossil tobacco. Hunt was less restrained. He gaped at the agent and said, “But there weren’t no storm where we was comin’ through, Mr.…”
Fraser favored him with a grave look. Hunt began to nod slowly. Meanwhile, MacLeish had walked to the corner and picked up the ten-gauge. He handed it to his partner. The two of them started for the door. And that was the end of that.
For about a week.
* * *
“Another month, boys, and I think we can call it quits.” A bulbous nose made a show of sniffing the air. “Snow’s in the wind already.”
“Damned if you ain’t right, there, Emery,” said one of the other men.
There were four of them gathered around the rough-hewn table that dominated the center of the cabin. They were spooning up pork, beans, jerky, dark bread, and some fresh fowl. It was a veritable feast compared to their normal cold meals, but they had reason to celebrate.
Johnny Sutter was an eighteen-year-old from Chicago who’d matured ten years in the twelve-month past. “I,” he announced, “am goin’ to get me a room in the finest whorehouse in Denver and stay stinkin’ drunk for a whole month!”
Loud guffaws came from the rest of the men. “Hell, Johnny,” said one of them, “if’n yer goin’ t’ do that, don’t waste your time doin’ it in a fancy place. Do it in the streets and let me have your room.”
“Dang right,” said another. “You’ll get yourself too stiff t’ do what you’ll want t’ be doin’.”
“Not stiff enough, mos’ likely,” corrected the mulatto, One-Thumb Washington. He laughed louder than any of them, showing a dark gap where his front teeth ought to have been. He’d lost those two teeth and four fingers of his left hand at Shiloh and never regretted it. Two teeth and four fingers were a fair enough trade for a lifetime of freedom.
Wonder Charlie, the oldest of the four, made quieting motions with his hands. His head was cocked to one side, and he was listening intently with his best ear.
“What’s wrong with you, old man?” asked Johnny, grinning at all the good-natured ribbing he was taking. “Ain’t you got no suggestions for how a man’s to spend his money?”
“It ain’t thet, Johnny. I think somethin’s after the mules.”
“Well, hellfire!” Emery Shanks was up from his chair and reaching for his rifle. “If them thievin’ Utes think they can sneak in here the day afore we’re set t’—”
Wonder Charlie cut him off sharply. “ ’Tain’t Utes. Ol’ Com-it-tan promised me personal two springs ago when I sighted out this creek bed thet we wouldn’t have no trouble with his people, and Com-it-tan’s a man o’ his word. Must be grizzly. Listen.”
The men did. In truth, the mules did sound unnaturally hoarse instead of skittish as they would if it were only strange men prowling about the camp. It if was a grizzly, it sure would explain the fear in their throats. A big male griz could carry off a mule alive.
The miners poured out the cabin door, hastily donning boots and pullin
“Whoa, dere, General Grant! Take it easy, mule….Wonder what the blazes got into dese mu—”
He broke off as the mule gave a convulsive jerk and pulled away from him. There was something between the camp and the moon. It wasn’t a storm cloud, and it certainly wasn’t a grizzly. It had huge, curving wings like those of a bat, and wild, glowing red eyes, and a tail like a lizard’s. Thin tendrils protruded from its lips and head, and curved teeth flashed like Arapaho ponies running through a moonlit meadow.
“Sweet Lord,” Johnny Sutter murmured softly, “wouldja look at that?”
The massive yet elegant shape dropped closer. The mules went into a frenzy. Wonder Charlie, who’d been at Bull Run as well as Shiloh and had emerged from those man-made infernos with his skin intact, didn’t hesitate. He fired at that toothy, alien face, the rifle kabooming through the still mountain air.
The aerial damnation didn’t so much as blink. It settled down on wings the size of clipper ship toproyals and began digging with pitchfork-sized claws at the watering trough just inside the corral. The mules pawed at the earth, at each other, at the railing in a frantic desire to crowd as far away from the intruder as possible.
One-Thumb ducked under the sweep of a great translucent wing and shouted in sudden realization, “Curse me for a massa, I think the monster’s after our gold!”
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