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Authors: Gemma Files

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A Tree of Bones

BOOK: A Tree of Bones
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GEMMA FILES
VOLUME THREE OF THE HEXSLINGER SERIES
ChiZine Publications

A TREE OF BONES

FIRST EDITION

A Tree of Bones
© 2012 by Gemma Files
Cover artwork © 2012 by Erik Mohr
Cover design © 2012 by Samantha Beiko
Interior design © 2012 by Danny Evarts

All Rights Reserved.

CIP data available upon request

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either
a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to
actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

CHIZINE PUBLICATIONS
Toronto, Canada
www.chizinepub.com
[email protected]

Edited and copyedited by Sandra Kasturi
Proofread by Chris Edwards

Table of Contents

To Steve,
whose contribution grows greater
with every new book:
partner, support, love.

And to Cal,
who keeps my hours full
and my intentions honest.

Otherwise: Elva Mai Hoover, Gary Files,
my surprisingly large roster of friends,
plus everyone else who has found themselves
developing a sneaking taste for
blood-soaked gay porno black magic horse opera.

The story is never over.

Out there in the large dark and in the long light is the breathless
Poem,
As ruthless and beautiful and amoral as the world is,
As nature is.

In the end there’s just me and the bloody Poem and the murderous
Tongues of the trees,
Their glossy green syllables licking my mind (the green
Work of the wind).

—Gwendolyn MacEwen

Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,
Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,
A heart that will one day beat you to death.

—Suji Kwock Kim
PROLOGUE

From a missive sent by former Pinkerton Detective Agency man George Thiel from the Texican “ghost county” of Perdido — abolished in 1858 — to fellow ex-agent Frank P. Geyer, whereabouts unknown. To save paper (and create a crude cipher), sentences are cross-written, first from the bottom left-hand corner to the upper right-hand, then from the upper left-hand corner to the bottom right:

My dear colleague,

I write you this from the shelter of Texas, where fresh disputes w. Mexico
are hotly brewing. Though we cannot be sure, repts. indicate a great host ready to march on N. Mexico
at the whim of Emperor Maximilian. Said host is composed of Imperial soldiers, Carlotta colonists (who
would have ever thought any American, defeated secesh or no, likely to change his citizenship on
promise of undisputed slave ownership alone? Yet it has happened, it is happening) and other, even less
desirable elements
. A s
econd Schism seems almost imminent, and all because cultists conflating Hex
City’s devilish doyenne with Mary, Mother of God are streaming up over the Border and making their
way to throw themselves at her bony feet, there to gash themselves with stones.

As one might expect, the Hapsburg considers this hexacious seduction of his citizenry further
aggression from the United States, moving perilously close to an outright act of war. The Carlottas, in
turn, have been ghosting up through Texas to catch and return as many as they can, which doesn’t make
our allies happy. Thus far, President Johnson has gotten
’round
it by claiming Hex City no longer part
of the United States
per se
, thus implying he has allowed it to secede from the nation — which perhaps
explains why he sent Capt. Washford and his Negro brigade down to help Pinkerton in the first place; i.e.,
so as to not encourage other only recently reintegrated parts of America to backslide. Texas, for
example, where civilian government was only restored two scant years back.

One way or the other, our former mutual boss knows neither what he sows nor what the country
at large will yet reap, as a consequence. The Texicans, a hot-headed race (to say the least), are poised
to meddle, but without information, I fear this would be a fool’s game. So please tell me soonest what
has come of your own quest, and address if you will all correspondence to the home of mine
inestimable host, Texas Ranger Leander McNelly. Since I have no notion of where you presently
reside, I send this via Apache scout. Awaiting further word, I account myself yr. most obt., etc., etc.

From Frank P. Geyer to George Thiel, one week and three days later:

George,

Since Pinkerton’s war on Hex City still rages apace and all notion of intelligence gathering seems frankly to have fallen by the wayside, I write to you directly. I am still wandering the wilderness like Elijah in exile, seeking after those ladies I told you of earlier — Mrs. Marshal Kloves (née Experiance Colder), a Spiritualist of some degree, plus the renegade squaw known as The Night Has Passed and that phantom shamaness she calls “Grandmother” or “Spinner,” who returned from the dead during Sheriff Love’s final battle with Chess Pargeter at Bewelcome.

Rumour has it that the Celestial sorceress “Songbird,” once Pinkerton’s confidante, may also be in their camp, making it the fullest roster of hexation-inclined females we might possibly hope to encounter. But since those same rumours imply she may yet be suffering from what other hexes fallen subject to Doctor Asbury’s vampire methods call the Little Death — i.e. been emptied of her reserves, down to the dregs and after — the prospect of her participation in any sort of revolt against our former boss may be considered moot.

As previously discussed, we have engaged a source inside Bewelcome itself to make contact with Ed Morrow, and possibly gain his observations from inside Camp Pink (since, loyal as I know him to be by nature, I suspect his true allegiance may lie elsewhere). While I fear the man in question essentially unreliable, I yet trust utterly in his ambition, as well as his skills at rhetorical politicking. I will retain his name for now, ’til next we meet in person.

Meanwhile, for all that Chess Pargeter remains supposedly dead, his influence — like that of his former paramour, Reverend Rook — seems to have infected the very landscape around us, altering it almost beyond recognition. Each night and morning, the weather witches of Hex City brew storms, lashing Bewelcome like a second Deluge; monstrous rumours abound, trumpeting creatures unrecognizable by any report. The Red Weed, too, still ranges apace, impinging on settlements with hideous results. What steadholders remain have resorted to routine self-exsanguination in order to drive it back, which in turn only serves to further establish the presence of that
thing
currently wearing Pargeter’s shape: Lady Ixchel’s sibling and rival, a black god which styles itself our whole world’s Enemy.

This entity roams the battlefield, appears in dreams to voice cryptic warnings, even pops up here and there to “help” one side or the other (its aid, like hers, bought always at the price of fresh-shed blood), before making itself once more scarce. Yet just as its overarching goals remain mysterious, its thirst for the same substance that powers the Lady’s soul-hungry Machine renders the very notion it might be somehow more trustworthy, laughable. Tezcatlipoca is, after all, the god of Chaos, Night, and Magic . . . as much a hex as any other, though writ so much dreadfully larger.

Reverend Rook and his kith aside, George, we are rolled like toys between two opposing devils — one angry, one amused. And increasingly, I cannot any longer begin to decide whose victory frights me more, as a prospect.

Your friend and ally,

Frank.

From a representative agglomeration of newspaper headlines recently filed by San Francisco Californian correspondent Fitz Hugh Ludlow for his series
Notes on a Tenth Crusade: At the New Aztectlan Front, with Allan Pinkerton and the 13th Louisiana Regiment of Infantry (African Descent)

THE HEXACIOUS — THEIR LATEST DEPREDATIONS EXPOSED

Fresh and Exciting Report

of how a Combined Battalion of Pinkertons and Negro Troops

Liberated, at Great Personal Cost,

23 Captives of No Magickal Skill,

Enticed and Enslaved by the Hex-Horde!

HORROR IN THE MOON-LADY’S STRONGHOLD

True Testimony of Victims Reveals

how Men, Women and Children of all ages, all races

Continue to Suffer Imprisonment, Assault (and Worse).

While Pinkerton and his Compact struggle

Vainly against Incalculable Odds,

Innocent Americans still fall Victim to the

Barbarous Old Mexican Practice of

Human Sacrifice!

FRESH NEWS OF THE HEX-WAR’S MAJOR PLAYERS

Agent Edward R. Morrow, Fully Reinstated

After his Flirtation with Outlawry,

while Professor Joachim Asbury,

Pinkerton’s Witch-Finding Weapon Master,

is even now Employed in Discovery of

New Anti-Hexological Methods;

In Bewelcome, Widow Sophronia Love makes no effort to Disguise her Disappointment over the Sad Fact that

Mrs. Kloves, Vigilante Murderess of Sheriff Mesach Love,

Remains, as yet, Un-apprehended.

Pinkerton’s Response:
“We have more

Pressing Matters to Worry Over.”

And finally, a notice published in Bewelcome Township’s own
Daily Letter
:

All citizenry to assemble as of Four O’clock Sharp at the Nazarene Hall for Town Meeting; grievances aired and debate heard.

Resolutions to be voted upon accordingly.

In attendance: Mrs. Sophronia Love (Widow), Reverend Oren Catlin, Mayor Alonzo H. Langobard, with testimony on recent breakthroughs in all matters arcanistric from Doctor Joachim Asbury.

(Though most probably unable to join with us himself, Mister Pinkerton has promised at least one more high-placed representative of his organization will also be in attendance.)

To-night’s reading:
Proverbs
2, 20 to 22 —

Walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous.

For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain. . . .

But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.

BOOK: A Tree of Bones
3.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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