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Guy Adams: on writing comics vs writing novels

Guy Adams: writing across mediums

With the final title in the Heaven’s Gate trilogy For a Few Souls More out last month and the new comic series Ulysses Sweet for 2000 AD coming to its conclusion shortly, we asked Guy Adams to open up behind the differences between writing for comics vs novels. Below is his response.



A writer’s office, all the usual: unread classy books, well-thumbed trash novels, a marked absence of pens and a surfeit of cats. GUY ADAMS is sat at his desk but turned to look directly at us. He is a devilishly handsome man in that ‘impaled himself on the nozzle of a cavity wall insulation pipe then fell in a pit of angry ducks’ kind of way.

So, they’ve asked me to explain the difference between writing comics and novels.


looks off panel, scratching his face in the way he does when he’s having a vigorous think.


He turns back to us.

I guess we’re taking as read the whole ‘nobody comes along and draws my novels making them look much better’ thing?


GUY is now an absolute Adonis of a man. Just looking at him makes your reproductive organs clatter like football rattles.

I mean, with a good artist a writer will always appear better than he actually is.


GUY is returned to his normal self.

That aside, to begin with, there’s no difference at all… The gestation is the same. Lots of dedicated research and notes.



(The following is a six panel grid, a montage of desk bound images. Keep the same angle, it should look like time-lapse photography, a fixed camera charting the calcification of an author.)


GUY sat up straight, this man means business, a blank page is open on the computer screen in front of him.


GUY is slumping slightly, screen still blank. Out of boredom, he pokes at a passing cat.


GUY is slumped further, now on Facebook looking at all the other writers who aren’t working either.


GUY is virtually horizontal. His partner has entered. She is looking despairingly at him.

I thought you were working?

I am.


Same as above but no dialogue. A beat.


Same as above but now GUY speaks.




Back to the set up from page one, GUY talking to us, he’s tapping at his temple.

It’s all about the ideas. Once you have them you decide what medium they’d work better in.


A close-up of some text on GUY’s computer screen.


Because each medium has it’s own strengths.


On the plains of Balthazar, just north of that viscous and unpleasant place known locally as the Bristle, a lone rider made his way towards the city of Golgotha.

The Choir of the Heat watched him as he passed, their cracked and dusty eyes grinding in their sockets as he crossed the horizon, trailing a dissipating tail of red earth behind him. As always, they sang their opinion on the matter, the birds in the sky above them circling away from the advances of those sharp and lethal notes. The rider, pre-warned, had taken his own precautions, his ears clogged shut with mud from the banks of the Bristle. It fizzed and popped, filling his head with a sound like cradles burning.


Now. The above scene is certainly visual and could work as a page of comics but you’d think long and hard about throwing that many words at a comic. It certainly wouldn’t fit in a panel like this pretend script suggests it can. In a novel it’s a third of a page of scene setting, something you can throw out there knowing you have all the space in the world. Words are cheap in prose. In a comic, space is everything. Just look at this caption, it’s madness, words, words, words, words, words… A lot of prose writers who try their hands at comics end up trying to use too many words. I certainly did, both on THE ENGINE scripts for Madefire and the first series of ULYSSES SWEET: MANIAC FOR HIRE for 2000AD (but more on that nut job in a bit). There’s also the notion of invisible notes of music being able to cut passers-by, that strikes me as something that’s inherently suited to prose because it’s a concept that works better in the imagination than as a physical image. How do you draw invisible, killer notes?


GUY is holding up a copy of FOR A FEW SOULS MORE.

That prose passage is from my latest novel by the way. One of the reasons I’ve been asked to write this piece. So, you know…


GUY now fills the panel as if he’s trying to burst out and grab the reader. His face pressing against the flat, two-dimensional plane as if slammed against a pane of glass.



GUY is now returned to the same calm pose as Panel 3. The book in his lap.

Whereas the above is a very comic-based trick. The rhythmic equivalent of a jump cut, used to punch home a point for comedic or dramatic effect. You couldn’t do that in a novel.


GUY is throwing the book over his shoulder.

The whole ‘pretending a character collides with the physical structure of the comic’ thing is a bit of theme for me. I use it in ULYSSES SWEET.


But more on that nut job later.



Big, explosive panel, the desk is ablaze, another passing cat gazes out at the reader in shock. GUY has pulled off his face to reveal he was Neil Gaiman all along.

Comics also offer that ‘page turn’ moment when you can suddenly spring something on a reader. Because of their visual nature they can have a more immediate impact. A line of prose takes a moment to sink in.


The office is now extinguished, everything looking black and wilted. GUY too is miserable, hunched and dejected.

Though it works best in digital where the reader is less inclined to flick through the whole thing, spotting your big reveals before you want them to.


The office, and GUY, now returned to normal. Once more addressing the reader ‘straight’.

Immediacy and structure. That’s a big deal with comics. Time yourself, ensure the pages turn at the right dramatic moments, the big, action panels have space to breathe. Don’t write too cluttered (like this bit of dialogue) but nor should you script a page too short so your artist has to fill in on your behalf.


A big picture of a bowl of fruit because GUY didn’t script enough panels for this page.



A silhouetted figure, a big question mark at its heart.


Of course, the visual nature of comics can also be a drawback. In prose you can hide things in plain sight. Surprising the reader with the identity of a character or a plot twist. When the reader only sees what you allow them to, you can pull the rug from underneath them easily.


A reader fallen over, flat on his back, a copy of FOR A FEW SOULS MORE covering his face. GUY is holding the edge of a rug in his hands, looking down at the poor fool who has just spent money on his story.

There’s an insidiousness to prose, it creeps, it misleads, it plays games with the reader. Just ask Roger Ackroyd.


GUY is stood with his arm around ULYSSES SWEET.

Another issue with comics is one of ownership. This is my good friend Ulysses Sweet.

Get your hand of me or I’ll hollow it out and use it as a swiss-army condom.


GUY no longer has his arm around ULYSSES, instead he is gesturing towards the right, a showman’s pose, welcoming GRANT MORRISON and JOHNNY JOHNSTONE into the panel. They look awkward to be there.

Now, I didn’t create Ulysses. He was invented by these men here.


GUY now has his arms around GRANT and JOHNNY.

Ulysses was a character in a four page story by these two, appearing once more in another two part tale, this time drawn by Colin MacNeil. But they left me a lot of room to move, I was able to re-invent him a fair bit, create a supporting cast, a world for him to inhabit…



GUY is now surrounded by other characters he’s worked on: ULYSSES is back, as is ROGUE TROOPER and MAX NORMAL.

Some writers find the idea of working with characters they didn’t create difficult. Personally, I think it’s great fun to take them over for a little while, bring something new to them and have a little fun.


ROGUE turns to stare at GUY in disgust. GUY’s grin remains fixed.

Fun? You’ve blown me up, poisoned me with a killer virus, set killer zombies on me… You’re psychotic.


MAX looks at ROGUE.  GUY’s grin is now beginning to look a little forced.

Baby Blue, bully for you! The dude set a killer robot on me. My creases had creases, my favourite tailor died just clocking me.


ULYSSES joins in, his face is happy. Happier than GUY who is really starting to look uncomfortable behind his crazy grin.

He had a guy punch out my spine. Boom. Lungs ended up swinging between my legs.


Both MAX and ROGUE are staring at GUY in despair. GUY is now crying. ULYSSES is smiling, peaceful and content.

I enjoyed it. Pussies.


MAX and ROGUE have vanished leaving little puffs of smoke. GUY is now alone with ULYSSES.

Luckily, as the writer, you have ultimate control. If characters start misbehaving…

Kill ’em in the sort of cool ways that really make the Internet sing.



GUY still stood with ULYSSES.

Of course, none of this is set in stone. For the most part I’m talking about cheap tricks, surface pleasures, the art of writing can’t be so easily explained.


GUY is enthused by his subject, ULYSSES is yawning.

No rules are set in stone, in any medium. You do what you want, you challenge the perceived limits, you make NEW rules.


GUY looks like a preacher now, arms wide in ecstasy at his own pompousness. ULYSSES has his head in his hands.

The art of creation has no limits! When you’re the writer you’re God! The world bends to your will! Let nobody tell you what you should do! Ignore all advice! Nothing can stop you!


ULYSSES has pulled out his gun and shoots GUY in the head, a spray of hot plasma and grey matter.


ULYSSES holding up a copy of 2000 AD

New series. Sexy death and overblown jokes. Buy it or I’ll pull you apart with my toenails.

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Exclusive extract: For a Few Souls More by Guy Adams




Two bullets changed the world. The first had already been fired, the second was still to come, resting in its box in the left hand pocket of Atherton’s coat as he rode towards the town of Wormwood.

It was the end of a rushed and uncomfortable journey and Atherton was in no mood for the atrocities that surrounded him. He’d heard the stories and read the report but words on a page don’t prepare you for the sight of a demon.

“Spare a few cents?” one asked him, brushing a plume of gelatinous, weeping fronds away from its mouth.

Atherton had once watched a table of Chinamen eat noodles with chopsticks. The passage of edible string from bowl to lip had seemed endless, as if they had been trying to consume an infinite clutch of twine. He had thought it like an ancient illustration of hellish torment and was reminded of it now. The demon coughed and the fronds whipped forward, some of them sticking to the creature’s forehead, hanging and quivering in front of its small, blue eyes like a mucous-splattered cobweb.

“Damned sickness,” the demon said, brushing the fronds free with its scaly hand. “The things you humans spread around.”

“If I give you money will you buy medicine?” Atherton asked. He had no intention of doing so but the question intrigued him.

“Heavens, no,” it replied, “waste of dollar. I’ll spend it on whisky. It won’t make me better but it’ll make me not care.”

“I’ll save my money then,” Atherton replied, moving on.

“Fuck you very much,” the demon said, falling into a coughing fit.

Atherton continued on towards Wormwood.

According to the reports, it had appeared out of nowhere. Atherton’s natural inclination would have been to dismiss such talk. He had once watched the illusionist, John Nevil Maskelyne seem to conjure a woman out of thin air but he doubted even that august performer could achieve the same with an entire town. Yet Atherton accepted his concept of reality was now in need of refreshment. While his superiors talked politics, terrified of the global ramifications of this new land in their midst, it seemed to Atherton that the real victim was science. He glanced up at a shape in the sky, it had the wings of a vulture but a human body. It swooped and curled in the air, either for the joy of it or on the hunt for a meal, Atherton couldn’t tell. Science, he thought, science may never recover from the presence of Wormwood.

The flying creature issued a cry that brought a hungry seagull to mind. Atherton kept one eye on it, wary in case it should swoop down onto him.

He couldn’t resist guiding his horse in a circuit of the town. He had been told that, while it may appear to be nothing more than a small collection of buildings and streets, once entered it was a gateway to almost infinite space. Impossibility after impossibility.

From a distance the place looked empty. That too was a lie, he was assured. His employers had sent a team of local men to investigate—Atherton had been on the other side of the country and a train could only run so fast—they had all commented on the difference between the town’s external appearance and the sights that unfolded once you crossed its threshold. The real town lay hidden, only visible once you were inside it.

As he watched, this was proven as a small group emerged from one of the side streets and out onto the open plain. They appeared like the resolution of a mirage, a shimmering of silver light, indistinct and liquid, that solidified as they left the influence of the town. There were two men, between them a young girl riding on a horse. They appeared perfectly human but Atherton knew better than to jump to conclusions.

“Good day,” said one of the men, nodding at him and smiling so widely that his thick beard rippled, like a dog shuffling into a comfy position to sleep on his face.

Atherton nodded and smiled back. “Been exploring?” he asked.

“More than that,” the other man said, “setting up house.”

This fellow was clean-shaven and less friendly. When he looked at Atherton it was with analytical eyes. Sensible man, Atherton thought. It was the English accent, that always brought people up short.

“Really?” Atherton asked, looking at the kid, “seems a funny place to call home to me.”

“You new here?” asked the man with the beard. Atherton nodded. “Then maybe you need to get a feel for the place before passing judgment.”

Atherton shrugged. “You hear stories.”

“Yeah,” the man continued, “that’s as maybe but Wormwood’s something you’ve got to experience for yourself.”

The girl smiled at Atherton and he noticed her teeth were moving, rolling up and down like the keys on a clockwork piano.

“Kid needs a dentist,” he said, encouraging his horse past them, continuing towards the town.

He entered Wormwood, passing through the invisible barrier that stood between it and the rest of the world.

The town was bloated with people. Great crowds, both human and demon, making their way along the wide, dirt streets. Everywhere he looked, Atherton saw the species intermingling. America, he thought, the melting pot of the world. He had been stationed over here only two months but he had grown to hate the country. Its chaos. Its contradiction. Its sickening enthusiasm.

A pair of children scuffled together in the dust, one looked perfectly human whereas the other had all the right body parts, just in the wrong places. The human kid laughed and threw a small ball, the demon child leapt to give chase, the legs that sprouted from his rosy cheeks paddling in the dirt as they dragged the rest of his torso behind him, arms clenching and clapping at the rear like a dual tail.

It made Atherton sick.

He tied up his horse outside a tavern, the riotous sound of cheering and laughter washing over him as he pushed open its doors and stepped inside.

It smelled like a place whisky went to die.

An obese creature navigated her way towards him on three legs. Her blouse was torn open to reveal multiple teats, all damp and pink from suckling. “Want milk?” she asked, the nipples turning towards him like the heads of flowers searching for sunlight. Atherton shoved her aside, repelled by the sensation of her bloated torso rippling against his arm.

He made his way towards the bar, teeth gritted. His skin crawled. He fantasised about drawing his gun and shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. Did demons bleed? What colour would the blood be as it splashed its wet heat onto the dirty floorboards?

A man with a separate chunk of flesh for each of his features turned away from the bar, clearing a space. His head reminded Atherton of a book, opened to reveal a handful of thick, fleshy pages. On either side, the ‘covers’ held an ear, then a wedge each for the eyes, the nose and a perpendicular mouth that waved back and forth in the centre with the shifting of the creature’s neck. Atherton didn’t manage to conceal his disgust and the creature’s lopsided mouth sneered to see the man’s revulsion.

“Problem?” the creature asked. It reached up towards its mouth with a three fingered hand and parted the lips. They creaked like rubber and Atherton turned away from the sight of the distended, pink innards revealing themselves like a bloodless wound. The demon threw the contents of his whisky glass into the aperture and then let it slap shut.

“No problem,” said Atherton, though he would love to see if the creature’s mouth could accommodate something larger than a shot of bourbon, a fist perhaps, or a broken bottle.

“What can I get you?” asked the barman, who at least appeared human.

Atherton had given up finding anything that suited his palette in this godforsaken land. “Whisky,” he said, because it couldn’t make his stomach more uncomfortable than the sights that surrounded him.

He gazed into the warped mirror behind the bar as his drink was poured, watching what appeared to be a chimp in a suit as it clambered up the stairs in pursuit of a young woman. She giggled, an enticement, though her suitor needed none, he screeched and raised his hairy fists in the air, a daunting bulge in his trousers proving his appetite was already perfectly sharpened.

“Join me?” asked a woman sat at a table to his right. How her voice had carried over the raucous cheering and cackling was beyond him but, as trickery went, it was small beer considering what else he had experienced.

She was dressed in a frock of satin and lace, the garment blooming in all the places that a proper lady’s would not. A whore, he decided. He had no interest in paying for what fought to expose itself from beneath her skirts but she might be useful in providing information. He sat down.

“New in town?” she asked and he noticed her mouth wasn’t moving.

“Yes,” he replied, “how do you do that?”

“What?” she asked and then touched her lips with her fingers, “oh, the voice,” she continued and this time her lips moved and her tone was different, as if another person was speaking entirely. “I’m a woman of multitudes. Pay me and you can count them.”

“Maybe,” he said, not wanting to put her off, “but first, tell me a bit about the town, would you?”

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, you hear stories on the trail, I guess I just want to know how true they are.”

“It’s hard to exaggerate about this place, honey, take a look around you. I imagine that, whatever you’ve heard, the truth is richer and harder to believe.” She leaned forward and the next time she spoke it was the other voice, the first voice he had first heard. “Why don’t you explore?”

“The town or you?” he asked.

She shifted her chair and hoisted her skirts to reveal the source of her second voice. “There’s nothing out there to compare with what you can find in here,” her sex said, it’s lips parting slightly as it spoke.

The look of disgust on his face didn’t anger her as it had the man at the bar, instead she laughed. “Oh, you are new around here aren’t you? Or are you one of those boys from the mountains? Here to fire up your righteous anger?”

“He just doesn’t know what he’s missing,” whispered the voice between her thighs, “one kiss from me and he’ll be smiling again.”

Atherton drew his gun beneath the table, leaned forward and stoppered her secondary voice with its barrel.

“I think I’d rather only hear from one of you,” he said, looking into the woman’s eyes. “Now tell me about the people in the mountains.”

“They’re like you,” she sneered, “typical men, cold and afraid of what they don’t understand. They look down on us and pray for deliverance, sweet little words to a God who would have ignored them anyway, even if He weren’t dead.”

“You can’t kill God,” Atherton replied. Her sex mumbled its disagreement around an inch of metal but he cocked the trigger and it ceased its complaints. “Can you say the same about yourself?”

“Oh, it would take more than you’ve got to ruin me,” she said, her words heavy with double meaning, “and the minute you pull that trigger you’ll have half of this bar wanting to make games of your offal. So, by all means, shoot your load, boy, I’ll make children of your bullets and invite them to dance on your grave.”

He met her gaze for a few moments more then withdrew his pistol, stood up and marched out of the bar, ignoring the dual peals of laughter that followed him.



Atherton was angry to be leaving the town so shortly after he’d entered it. He had let his anger get in the way of his common sense and could only hope he’d find something of worth in the whore’s words.

He urged his horse towards the mountains that surrounded the town, scanning the horizon for signs of life.

After half an hour’s ride he was forced to accept that he would have to continue on foot, the landscape was too steep for his horse, the route through the rocks too narrow.

Angry and aware that he might never see the animal again, he did his best to find it some shade and cinched the reins between a pair of rocks.

He had been climbing for twenty minutes or so, the sun beating down on him, when he realised he was no longer alone.

He turned to look down at Wormwood, feigning casual interest, a man out for a hike, all the while keeping his hand close to his holster. As he turned he glimpsed a pair of shadows dart out of sight and he tracked their owners to an outcrop just above him and to the left.

“Why don’t you come out?” he asked, keeping his hand close to his gun and looking around for the best natural cover should they decided to reply with gunfire. “I’m no enemy of yours. Quite the opposite.”

“You came from Wormwood?” the voice asked. Atherton was surprised to note the speaker’s accent, it was as British as his own.

“I’ve just been there,” he admitted. “I was sent to investigate it.”

“Sent by whom?”

“Come out and I’ll tell you.”

“Tell me one other thing first: what’s the purpose of your investigation? What do your superiors want to do with the town?”

Atherton smiled. “They have yet to make their intentions wholly clear but I imagine they’ll want me to destroy it. As both a political and spiritual abomination.”

There was a scuffle from behind the rocks and a man stood up, he was wearing a monk’s habit. “Then I can see we are, indeed, allies. I’m Father Martin and I welcome you to our little commune.”



Atherton followed the monk and his companion, a frail-looking man who remained silent, throwing the occasional concerned look in Atherton’s direction.

“You’re from England?” Father Martin asked as they climbed up through the rocks.

“Yes, though I’ve been here a few months.”

“A spy?”

“An observer.”

“Semantics, something I am well conversed in as a religious man.”

“What brought you here?” Atherton asked.

“The town. I travelled over with a larger party. We had all heard the myths about Wormwood and wanted to be here for when it appeared.” Father Martin glanced over his shoulder where the town was still visible. “At the time I had thought I was on a holy mission, perhaps I was, though it’s hard to cling to that.”

“And the rest of your party?”

Father Martin sighed. “Some are still with me, the majority of my brothers. The rest are lost to me. I’m afraid we suffered from a divergence in philosophy.”

“Not unusual for someone in your line of work I’d have thought.”

“My ‘line of work’ has irrevocably changed. We’ve moved from the dust of the library to the open plain. No more discussion of beliefs and theoretical ethics, now the work of Hell is as physical as these rocks, an inarguable thing for all to gaze on.”

“Perhaps that’s a good thing for faith?”

“The very point of faith is that it’s a matter of belief, fighting against that,” Father Martin gestured towards the town, “is not about faith, it’s about fear.”

“Did you see it appear?”

Father Martin nodded. “And I saw it collide.”


The monk nodded. “That’s our word for it. The moment when it became a fixed part of our world. We can discuss that later. We’re here.”

The track through the mountain dropped down, leading into a hollow space where Father Martin’s people had made their camp. Being a man of practical considerations, the first thing Atherton analysed was the camp’s security. It was well hidden, surrounded on all sides by rocks and would remain unseen until you were right upon it. That said, once discovered, the advantage would rest with the attacker, able to maintain the high ground and shoot into the crater. The camp’s residents would be captive targets. Fish in a barrel. All of this rushed through Atherton’s head before he took in the human details.

It reminded him, unsurprisingly, of a travelling church congregation. The kind of evangelical folk who toured the country en masse, pitching their tent and preaching to the locals before folding the words of Jesus away into their packs and trunks and carting them off to the next town. The people looked drawn and severe, a flock of hungry birds wrapped up in plain feathers. Here and there, fires burned, heating thin stews and watery soups. It was a place of abstinence. A camp of grey people. A place of puritanism and disapproval. Atherton liked it.

“Are you hungry?” Father Martin asked.

Atherton had travelled too far and too hard to refuse a meal when it was offered so Father Martin led him through the camp to a small tent on the far side.

Their companion, sparing just enough time to offer Atherton one last cautious glance, peeled away to rejoin his family.

The monk’s tent was just large enough for two, and they sat in its mouth and ate a meagre portion of bread and cured meat.

Once done, Atherton filled his small pipe and listened to the monk’s tale.



Father Martin told Atherton of his trip from England. He detailed the rest of his party: of his fellow members in the Order of Ruth; Lord Forset and his daughter Elisabeth; the engineer Billy Herbert and, finally, Roderick Quartershaft, the man of fiction who, as well as Wormwood, found his real self, Patrick Irish, at the end of his journey.

He told him of the things they had seen on the road to find their impossible town. Of swarms of bats and tribesmen of iron and coke.

He told him how Wormwood had finally appeared before them, the solidifying of a mirage, a dream writ large in timber and slate.

He told him about Alonzo, the self-appointed voice of God who had pronounced to those gathered on the plain.

He detailed the long hours of waiting, of the near tragedy as Lord Forset’s Land Carriage was stolen and aimed at Wormwood like a steam-powered bullet.

Finally, and by now the sun was beginning to set behind the mountains that surrounded them, he told him of the collision.

 “Light flooded the entire valley. There was the sound of a gunshot, such a simple, earthly noise and then the air itself felt as if it was being sucked out of the world. A wind roared and we stumbled, blind and deaf as the reality we had always known shifted around us.”

This was not news to Atherton. It had been felt the world over. A blank moment of thunder and awe, experienced by all.

At the time, Atherton had been in New York, regretting his transfer from Africa, assisting with the Empire’s expansion. Africa had been a land of monsters too, Atherton felt. Heat and rebellion. Bullets and blood. He had done good work there. When the light had come, washing over him, he had half hoped it was the hand of God, coming to claim him from his new station, a city of boredom, and relocate him to somewhere worthwhile. Perhaps, in a way, that is exactly what it had been.

“Then, all was normal again,” the monk continued. “The light vanished, the wind faded and the town lay before us. Only now its streets were open, the way no longer obstructed by the unseen barrier.”

“What caused it?”

“They say…” and here Father Martin’s nerves truly began to show. “It was the death of God. Felled by a bullet.”

“You can’t kill God,” Atherton said for the second time that day. This time he found some agreement.

“I would hope not. Though they say He wanted to die. They say he was wearing the body of a mortal. A child. They say He wanted to know what it felt like to be human. To be finite.”

“Who are ‘they’ that do all this talking?”

Father Martin shrugged. “Stories pass around here as freely as the air. I don’t know how much credence I can give any of them. All I can say is that this has become the accepted version of the events that took place on the other side of Wormwood.”

“In Heaven?” Atherton didn’t bother to keep the cynicism from his voice.

“I know, it’s a hard concept to grasp isn’t it? Again the ethereal, the spiritual, given flesh. Heaven is not a place we would ever have granted geography. Even those of us who believed unequivocally in its presence would think of it as abstract, a place of the mind not somewhere solid. Hell too. These were domains of the soul, that insubstantial, intangible essence. What use did the soul have of walkways? Bricks and mortar?”

He was looking towards Wormwood, Atherton knew, even though it was not visible here in the crater.

“I would always have suspected,” the monk continued, “that, however we visualised the afterlife, God or the Devil, we would be doing so in a reductive fashion. The reality would be even more abstract than our human minds could picture. Actually, the opposite is the case. It’s as solid as we are. Perhaps, given that, it’s not so absurd to believe God may be dead after all. Maybe he was as ruined, as tethered by the flesh as we all are.”

“I remain to be convinced.”

Father Martin smiled. “And to think, earlier I complained that the intangibility of theology was lost to us. Perhaps we have just as many mysteries as we always did. Except now the answers may be found by explorers not philosophers, archeologists not clerics.”

“If our government has its way, that soil will never be dug. They will want the doorway closed. Heaven and Hell, if they exist as physical continents, must be vaster than any other on the map. That they should exist, here… That cannot be allowed.”

“I wonder if that would have been the case had Wormwood appeared in England?” Father Martin asked.

Atherton was not going to be drawn into a political argument, however much he knew that the monk had put his finger on the truth. “You said yourself, that place should not exist.”

“Indeed not. Whatever my beliefs I am no idiot. To have Heaven and Hell on our doorsteps, to be able to walk directly into either…”

“Or to have whatever inhabits them walk into our world.”

“Exactly. It would have been better were that not to have happened. I cannot believe it is what God wants, or, perhaps wanted. What chance does any human soul have if it can simply stroll into paradise? The chaos you saw down there, the monstrosities and the aberrations, they will only be the beginning, of that I’m quite sure. Soon, mankind will match it for its excesses. Can you imagine what our world will be like once people realise there are no limitations? That there is no need to await heavenly reward? That Hell can simply be walked away from? Do you think the human race is strong enough to retain its morality, it’s sense of propriety, in the face of that?”

Atherton held the morality of the world in low esteem and always had. “No.”

“And so, if the doorway can be closed it must, for all our sakes.”

“God’s work?” Atherton smiled.

Father Martin, for all he knew he was being mocked, nodded. “I believe so. And, even if that is the only belief I am left with I will hold onto it.”


After Atherton announced his intention to remain in the camp, at least for now, Father Martin instructed a couple of men to gather the man some supplies. A bed roll, a canopy, a little food and water. These people didn’t have much but they did their best to share.

That night, as the camp slept under the stars, the air filled with the faint sound of smouldering fires and snoring, Atherton lay awake and imagined what might lie ahead.

Father Martin had been right of course, his government’s concern was not a spiritual one. The idea that America now possessed both Heaven and Hell on its soil, vast, powerful landscapes with undreamed of populations; such a thing was terrifying to every other country in the world. Certainly he would not be the only agent of a foreign power currently charged to investigate. He imagined swarms of them were descending from all over the globe. Would those who called the afterlife home ally themselves with the country they were tethered to? Would they attack it? Would they occupy it?

What of the dead? Did they still walk on the other side of Wormwood? How many English citizens were now transported to American soil? How many French? Spanish?

It was an impossible situation and one that his mechanical, rational mind couldn’t readily process. He was not a politician, he was a weapon, a scalpel whose blade was turned onto the body politic so that it could have its diseased flesh removed.

After an hour or so, he thought of his horse and, as he was still unable to sleep, decided he would make the short walk down the mountainside to attend to the animal. He had no feelings for it but it was his transport and a man like Atherton always kept an escape route easily to hand.

He walked quietly between the sleeping people. He was used to moving stealthily at night. The moon was the assassin’s ally and he had worked beneath its light many times over the years.

He scaled the outcrop that hid the camp from view and began to descend, moving carefully over the uneven terrain. As he got lower, Wormwood was revealed. It burned at night. He had proven earlier that the real town could not be seen from outside so the lights that flickered in its windows, the fires that burned in its grates, must be illusory. Real or not, they cast an orange glow on the plain around it that brought infernal imagery to Atherton’s mind. Perhaps Heaven was, indeed, on the other side of that gateway but so far all he had seen was Hell.

His mood was not improved when he discovered the remains of his horse. It was half-eaten, it’s belly open to the stars, their lights reflected in the black pool that seeped from it.

“There are wild animals in the mountains,” said a voice behind him and his gun was in his hand before he had even turned around to face the speaker.

Atherton’s first assumption was that one of the residents of Wormwood had climbed up here to take a look at the opposition. Even by moonlight he could tell that the man’s skin was raw, a mess of shining flesh and scabs.

“I mean no harm,” the man said, raising his hands, “and I’m as human as you, whatever my face may make you think.” He smiled and his teeth glinted unnaturally.

“You look like a demon to me,” said Atherton. “You do this to my horse?”

The man shrugged. “What sort of man would eat a living animal?” He smiled again and Atherton thought the man’s teeth may be false, metal embedded in the gums. “Like I say, there are dangerous creatures out here.”

“Clever ones too, the beast’s mouth is strapped shut with a belt, to stop it from screaming as it was attacked I assume?”

“They call me The Geek,” the man said, ignoring the question.

“What sort of name is that?”

“The only one God left me with, just ask Father Martin, he used to dream of me. Maybe he still does when the moon’s full.”

The Geek sat down on a rock, refusing to show concern towards the gun Atherton pointed at him.

“I was listening to you earlier,” he continued, “when you were talking to the Father.”

“I didn’t see you.”

“Not many do. I’m not so pretty as I used to be and I prefer to keep to the shadows. But I keep my ears open. I like to know what’s going on. You’re here to kill the devils.”

“I’m here to try.”

“I imagine they take some killing. I ain’t tried myself, as tempting as it is.” The Geek looked towards Wormwood. “I’m always interested in unusual creatures, things I ain’t got my hands on before.”

To Atherton this sounded dangerously close to perversion and he was quick to move the subject along.

“How long have you been here?” he asked.

“Since the beginning. I saw it born. Maybe I’ll see it die too. You ain’t alone in wanting that. Can’t imagine you’ll struggle to find an army.” He laughed. “I don’t mean the little mice up there, neither,” he said. “They mean well I guess but they ain’t got a strong arm between them. It’ll take more’n prayers to kill Hell.”

“You’re right,” Atherton admitted. He holstered his gun. It’s not as if it scared the man anyway. “But I imagine Hell has an army too.”

“For sure,” The Geek agreed. He smiled and, again, those metallic teeth glinted by the light of the moon, “I wonder if any of us will be alive by the end of it? Not that it matters.”


“If we die, it ain’t like we have so far to go these days is it? It ain’t nothing but a short walk.”

So saying, The Geek stood up, turned around and vanished into the night.

Atherton, his audience over, took one last look at his gutted horse and returned to the camp and to his plans.

Once he was gone, The Geek re-emerged from the shadows to retrieve his belt from the dead horse’s mouth.

“He seems a mite intense,” he said, aware that he once more had company.

“Doesn’t he?” the man replied. The Geek looked up and smiled to see the look on the man’s face as he gazed down on the dead horse.

“Sight of blood troubles you?” The Geek asked. “I’m surprised, with what you’re planning I reckon you’ll be ankle deep in it before long.”

“Maybe,” the man agreed. “I hope not. So,” he paused for a moment, “you’ll do as I ask?”

The Geek shrugged. “I can’t exactly refuse God now can I?”



(An excerpt from the book by Patrick Irish)

History is built on uncertainty. Nothing grows in barren soil, it needs rain storms, it needs the food brought by rot, it needs heat. The status quo can be a pleasant place to live, but nothing great will ever flourish from it.

When Wormwood appeared it changed the world. At the time of writing, I cannot accurately predict what will come from it. I am still too close, it will be for historians to judge, looking back from the vantage point of years gone by, as to what those changes were and what damage they caused. Still, I am a writer, it is the one and only worthwhile skill I possess and it would be impossible for me not to put pen to paper and attempt to document my place within it all. Perhaps it will be of use to those future historians as they sift through the reports and the articles and draw their conclusions.

I have no doubt that many books will be written about our current times. Though it may seem arrogant, I chance to suggest that mine will be the most valuable. After all, I do not write simply as a spectator. I write as a man who played a part in these proceedings. When the bullet was fired that changed everything, it rang out across the world. That was something we all experienced, every single person on the planet.

But I saw it land. I watched it open a hole in the forehead of its victim. I watched God die.

I was there.

I later discovered how that moment impacted elsewhere, the light, the sound, the shared knowledge that something of universal importance had just happened. From my front row seat, there at the storm’s heart, I fear my experience may seem anti-climactical. It appeared to us, those few in the room, as nothing more or less important as the death of a child. We knew our eyes deceived us, Henry Jones, the blind gunslinger, was a man capable of great horrors but I dare to suggest that even he would think twice before emptying his gun into the head of an innocent infant. The child, the young girl, her toy train pulled along behind her by a length of string, was not all she appeared. She was a skin worn by a greater other, the Greatest in fact. Hankering after a mortal existence, God had poured itself into the flesh and bone of a human child. Jones, having a knife to grind with the Almighty, saw a chance and took it. God had wanted to experience mortality. God did so. At least, that is what we have to assume. Certainly the aftershocks lend credence to the act. As tragic and horrendous as the death of a child might be it doesn’t alter reality. Our history, built on the countless corpses of children, has proven as much.

Many have argued since that God cannot die, whatever complex game He might wish to play. I don’t know. I suspect that is the (understandable) response of a devout mind in fear of losing its anchor in the world. All I can say is: if God is all powerful, God can do anything. That includes putting Himself in a position where his own extinction was not only possible but somehow desired.

Jones certainly considered his work successful, holstering his gun and walking out of that immaculate room with a renewed sense of purpose. I suppose you think one of us should have stopped him? The execution of God is certainly a crime that most would consider worthy of punishment. I can only admit that I—and I presume my companions also—were so shocked at his sudden slaughter that we hadn’t the power to move. I know we were still stood there for long moments after he left, staring at the body of the dead girl—and however much we knew she had been more than that, it was the image we were faced with, a child shot in the head.

It was Soldier Joe that made the first move. He removed his jacket and laid it over her. It wasn’t long enough for the task, her feet poking out from beneath the hem and the slowly expanding pool of her blood would not be concealed by it for long. It was better though, not to have to look at that face fallen slack, the small, red hole just above her left eye.

“I don’t know what else to do,” he admitted, running his hands through his own hair, touching, or so I imagined, the old scar of his own bullet-wound. He had survived his, after a fashion.

I know his history now, of course. All of those years as the brain-damaged messiah for the unscrupulous preacher Obeisance Hicks. Here, in the Dominion of Clouds, he had his faculties, could think and speak and express himself. In the world of the mortals all of these things had been beyond him. He had been at the mercy of his owner, his only friend the woman who stood with him now, his nurse Hope Lane. She doted on him, her feelings for him clearly more than those of nurse and patient. I wonder whether that was another blessing that might only be fully enjoyed now that they had been removed from the narrow-minded beliefs of the mortal world. I am sure the colour of her skin would have been a source of victimisation and disapproval were they to have tried to become a couple. We are not a species known for our acceptance of those we view as different to ourselves, though, of course, the median by which we judged such things was soon to change.

Soldier Joe. I wish I knew his real name, it seems foolish referring to him by such a childlike nickname. On reflection though, perhaps not. Whoever he had been before his accident, it had been a rebirthing. A long and painful one that had only just concluded. Perhaps it is only right in such circumstances that a man be allowed to shed his old name along with his old life.

“What will it mean?” Hope Lane asked, the first of us, I think, to really grasp that the murder we had just witnessed was a beginning not an end. “Will all of this,” she gestured around us, “just crumble? How can the world go on without its God?”

The peculiar, bright white world we had been brought to showed no sign of failing. There was no tremor beneath our feet or distant sound of devastation. While it would be understandable for one brought up on the notion of God as the Almighty glue that both birthed the world and, indeed, controlled it, to expect the Apocalypse in his absence, there was no sign of the End of Days just yet. I am now speaking with the advantage of hindsight of course, I know that life continued, much as a son or daughter might outlive their mother or father. Even then, with Hope’s question fresh from her lips I don’t think I truly feared Armageddon. I think it was partly the fact that we had already been led to believe that God was an absent ruler. We had been brought to the Dominion of Clouds by Alonzo with a view to us helping him fill the vacuum he already claimed to be there. Wormwood, the very myth of it, was purely a method of securing the living souls he had set his sights on. I was to be the author of his new bible, Soldier Joe was the noble martyr, Jones the Devil. In that role, he had certainly made a most promising start.

“We need to speak to Alonzo,” said Joe. “He’s the only one who can explain any of this.”

He moved to the window as if expecting to be able to see the man—if that word fits, and it doesn’t, but forgive me, our lexicon was not built for the stories I must tell.

“He meant this to happen,” said Hope. “You heard what Mr Jones said. They’d talked about him killing God. Alonzo planned it.”

I found myself staring at the remains of our food, splattered against one of the white walls by a sweep of Alonzo’s arm. “He planned a lot of things. What was he saying before he left? A sacrifice?”

“He certainly got one of those,” said Joe, looking at the body beneath his jacket.

Again, my hindsight comes into play. The sacrifice Alonzo intended was not the death of God—or, not just that—it was the planned collision of the vehicle on which I had so recently travelled, the Forset Land Carriage, with the impenetrable barrier that surrounded Wormwood. A rather dull sacrifice you might think, but the Land Carriage contained a number of highly-delicate and dangerous pieces of equipment, some of which, if ignited would have reduced the entire plain, and the many that camped in it, to ash. It would have been a disaster of suitably biblical proportions. It is thanks to the sterling work of my old colleagues, most particularly Forset’s daughter, Elisabeth, that the accident was averted. At the time, however, none of us could have known that.

“The room,” said Hope. “His…” she struggled to remember the name Alonzo had given it, “Observation Lounge.”

The name was unfamiliar to me, but they soon explained it was a room in which Alonzo had maintained a watch on all of creation.

“If he’s not there, we’ll certainly be able to find him,” Joe said.

We filed out of the dining room, making our way along one of the many featureless corridors. I remember thinking, as I had several times, how it could be that Heaven was so empty. Surely, even in a place so vast one would expect to occasionally chance upon another holy soul. Could Heaven really be as vacant as it seemed?

For a Few Souls More is out now – hit the navigation tags at the top of this post for more associated content and further information on the Heaven Gate’s trilogy.

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EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT: read the first part of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE INFERNAL by Guy Adams!

EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT: read the first part of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE INFERNAL by Guy Adams!

A weird western, a gun-toting, cigarrillo-chewing fantasy built from hangman’s rope and spent bullets.

The west has never been wilder. A Steampunk-Western-Fantasy from Guy Adams.

“You wish to meet your God?” the gunslinger asked, cocking his revolver, “well now… that’s easy to arrange.”

Every one hundred years a town appears. From a small village in the peaks of Tibet to a gathering of mud huts in the jungles of South American, it can take many forms. It exists for twenty-four hours then vanishes once more, but for that single day it contains the greatest miracle a man could imagine: a doorway to Heaven.

It is due to appear on the 21st September 1889 as a ghost town in the American Midwest. When it does there are many who hope to be there: traveling preacher Obeisance Hicks and his simple messiah, a brain-damaged Civil War veteran; Henry and Harmonium Jones and their freak show pack of outlaws; the Brothers of Ruth and their sponsor Lord Forset (inventor of the Forset Thunderpack and other incendiary modes of personal transport); finally, an aging gunslinger who lost his wings at the very beginning of creation and wants nothing more than to settle old scores.

A weird western, a gun-toting, cigarrillo-chewing fantasy built from hangman’s rope and spent bullets. The West has never been wilder.

The Good, The Bad and The Infernal is now out in the US and Canada and will be available in the UK from 11th April!

And here, for your delectation and delight, is the first part of this weighty tome….

1. Thirty days ago…

“The Atlantic is a cruel and venomous woman, Father, just as likely to snatch you to her bosom, body and soul, as deliver you to your destination.”
“No mere ocean is capable of taking the immortal soul, Mr Quartershaft.”
“Father, this is why it’s good that you have me by your side; you may be all-knowing in the matters of spirit, but you are like a child beyond your monastery, naïve of the natural world’s cruelties.”
Quartershaft, confident that the monk’s gaze was elsewhere, took a swig of brandy from his hip flask.
“Why, the last time I sailed these waters, I lost two dozen men from my expedition, grabbed by the waves that writhe beneath us like a tuppenny whore earning her change.”
The monk scowled at that and Quartershaft reminded himself that his lewder metaphors were best saved for the country set. “I had to bring the vessel to dock myself, lashed to the wheel by rags from the dead men’s clothing.”
“How fortunate that, though their bodies were lost to the ocean, their shirts were not.”
Quartershaft stared at the young novice who had joined them with a look that he hoped, brandy or not, created the striking profile that appealed to magazine editors the publishing world over. The look that said: intrepid, brooding and authoritative. A man to be reckoned with (or, at the very least, read about). It was a look that he practiced often in the mirror, trying to emulate the sketches that had graced the cover of many a worthy periodical. It was a lot harder to achieve without pen and ink.
“Fortunate indeed, Brother William. Now, if you will excuse me, I must prepare for our landing, peruse the maps, maybe take an hour’s rest. I shall be in my cabin, Father, should you or any of your order find yourselves in deathly peril.”
Quartershaft sauntered below deck, leaving the two monks looking over the prow.
“You really must mind yourself with Mr Quartershaft, Brother William. He seems a sensitive man.”
“He is, begging your pardon Father, an idiot and a liar. A sham, cultivated to sell lurid publications, and nothing more. I cannot begin to understand why you insist on his joining us in our quest.”
Father Martin sighed.
“Money, Brother William; money. Without the financial support of his publisher, we would have been penniless halfway to Plymouth, let alone the Americas.”
“Indeed, and while he may be prone to embroidering the accounts of his previous expeditions, you have no reason to doubt his abilities.”
“He got lost belowdecks twice, yesterday. I found him relieving himself in one of the galley cupboards. Claimed it was an ancient mariner’s trick to waterproof the timbers. Then there is the persistent sound of vomiting from within his cabin, as well as sundry other noises… I dread to think what he does in there away from prying eyes.”
“Nonetheless, William, he may have some use in the journey ahead. And do not forget, without the documents he retrieved during his recent journey to India, we would know a lot less about our sacred destination.”
“If it even exists.”
Father Martin looked disapprovingly at the novice.
“Oh, Wormwood exists, my boy, never doubt it for a moment.”
He gazed back out to sea, where the slim shadow of land grew closer.
“Although there may be times during our journey when we all wish it didn’t.”

2. Twenty days ago…

They moved as tight as pack animals, hugging the ground as they ran. Four in all, wrapped in dull cloth to cheat lazy eyes. Shadow clothes.
Los Redo Prison sat within a bowl of open land, surrounded by mountains. They ran towards it, virtually invisible against the ill-lit landscape.

Manco snorted and spat a wad of phlegm onto the ground. The dust filled his head. He’d worked here six months and his lungs hurt. He wished he could work somewhere where the air was clear.
Shifting position, he wedged the butt of his rifle against his gut and ferreted in his shirt pocket for tobacco. He slowly rolled a smoke in one hand, tamping down the tobacco and folding the paper around it with deft movements of his fingers. He gummed the paper down with a streak of spit and shoved the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, then flicked a match alight against the crumbling wall at his back, cupped the flame in his palm and lit up. He took a deep lungful and flicked the spent match to the ground, staring into the mountains.
The blade came from the left, sliding across his throat; the flesh parted, releasing blood and smoke. Manco slid, twitching, to the floor.

They came together silently and vaulted one of their number onto the prison wall. Small and stunted, barely more than three foot from toe to topknot, the figure scampered along the edge of the wall before tumbling to the other side.
The wall backed onto a small courtyard in front of the prison buildings, with their corridors and poky cells. There were three guards, shuffling around the gate. The night was silent but for the distant persistence of cicadas.
Three shots rang out and the guards went down.
The midget dropped to the courtyard and, kicking at the bodies as he passed, pulled back the bolts of the gate and let his companions enter.

Henry Jones rolled off his bunk and got to his feet. He pulled his belt tight and adjusted the fit of his trousers around the crotch, then ran his finger around the waistband, making sure his cotton shirt was fully tucked. Slipping his maroon silk waistcoat over his shoulders, he cleared his throat gently, testing his vocal chords. Buttoned up, silver watch chain evenly slung, he reached for his black jacket and pulled it on, rolling his shoulders to get them snug and flicking his cuffs forward. He just had time to run a careful hand over his oiled hair, checking for runaways, before the door exploded.
When the dust settled, Jones twitched his head at the sound of the small feet scuffling into his cell.
“Evenin’ Knee High,”
“Evenin’ Mr Jones, sir,” the midget shouted over the considerable noise of gunfire.
Jones strolled out of the cell and towards the courtyard.
The gunfire had ceased now, the dirt damp with the guts of prison guards.
“Henry!” One of the figures moved forward, pulling the grey cowl from its head to reveal beautiful red hair. A tanned face, inset with sparkling emerald eyes and rich full lips, surrounded by the bushiest and most luxuriant of beards.
“Evenin’ darlin’,” said Jones, giving her a tongue-filled kiss and a firm grab between the thighs, romantic as he was wont to be.
“We’ve got you, baby,” she murmured, stroking the smooth, eyeless skin that made up the top half of his face, and pulling him closer to her. “We can find it together.”
He twitched his head momentarily, grabbed the gun she had slung in her left thigh holster and snapped off a shot to his rear. A wounded guard, who had nursed thoughts of being a hero, recoiled against the bullet and died.
“Sorry, darlin’,” said Jones, “you were sayin’?”
“Wormwood, honey,” she said, “let’s find Wormwood.”

3. Ten days ago…

“Can I hear a hosanna?” Obeisance Hicks, emissary of the Lord and man of means, most surely could.
He cast a look at his fragile messiah, just to check the man’s eyes were open and bowels in order. People could stand all manner of vagaries in their Gods, he had discovered, but a lack of toilet training was frowned upon, ecclesiastically. People wanted their Christ to smell sweet.
“I had a vision this morning,” he went on to explain. “A message from God.” Here he put his hand on the war veteran’s shoulder, stroking the white robes he dressed the man in.
“He was telling me that the people of this town are almost lost to His sight.”
There was a predictable yell of rebellion.
“That is what He said,” insisted Hicks, pointing out at the faces of those gathered around the caravan. “I am merely His messenger. He told me that the devil himself had laid claim to this place, thanks to the help of his ministers and dark priests.”
Again, a roar of disapproval.
“My friends,” said Hicks, a man who knew how far to push matters, “you have no need to fear. I do not abandon you. And through me, God does not abandon you either. Behold!”
And with a gentle kick the tame messiah was awoken, calling out and raising his arms to the sky according to his training. Hicks never failed to take pleasure in the response of the crowd, the gasps of holy pleasure as the stigmata begin to flow.
“See how your sins are washed away in Holy Blood, see how I have the best interests of your souls at heart.”
He took a sip of whisky from his tin cup (it paid not to advertise one’s choice of beverage while spreading the word of the Lord; the only spirits crowds like this wanted to see were Holy in nature). He liked to leave a long moment after the blood, just to make sure it had really sunk in.
“We are here amongst you,” he continued, “to save your eternal souls. We want to protect you, oh, yes… we want to see you wrapped up in the warm and loving arms of the Lord. We do! We do!”
He reached into his waistcoat pocket and removed a small glass bottle. He held it up, letting the glass glint in the light so as to add an extra hint of the heavenly. Then he placed the neck of the glass against the false messiah’s wrist and let some of the blood drip inside. Just a little, a couple of drops; nothing robbed something of its mystery more than quantity. He corked the bottle and held it up to the light once more.
“Which is why I want to share this gift, this holiest of relics, this charm against the devil, this potent tonic for Jesus!”
He threw the bottle into the crowd, where it was caught by a young black girl. She held it close to her cheek and sang out in excitement. “Lord, how it sings!” she said. “You can feel God Himself just beyond the glass.”
“Put it away, honey,” said Hicks, “it’s a precious gift.” And she did so, amid the jealous clamour of the crowd.
“Friends!” Hicks shouted, “don’t worry! I have a handful more I’m willing to donate to the holiest, most…”—he allowed a small pause here—“generous-spirited amongst you.”
“I want to show my gratitude,” shouted the girl, holding up a couple of coins. They glinted in the sun just the same as the bottle had done. Holy of holies, Hicks thought…
“I do not sell gifts from the Lord,” he insisted. “If you wish to offer money to my ministry, then I thank you, and I swear to you that it will be used only in the furtherance of the holy message.”
He took the coins from her and dropped them into a small basket at the front of his makeshift stage.
“There,” he said. “In case anybody else might be so Christian in their wishes.”
He brought forward a wooden chest and began to unload pre-filled glass bottles from it, stepping back slightly as the line began to form. Praise be, he thought; God helps those who help themselves.

“Can we please get moving?”
Hicks looked up at the black face of his first ‘customer’ and smiled. “Just as soon as I’ve had a short nap,” he announced, taking another sip of his whisky (from the bottle this time, he had given up on the tin mug now he was out of the public eye).
“It’s alright for you,” she said, despairing of the man who had never quite got the difference between ‘owner’ and ‘employer.’ “You might escape a lynching, if they catch you out as a con artist. They’d hang me up just to pass the time.”
By now Hicks was snoring and there was very little that Hope Lane could do to rouse him.
She gathered up her skirts and shuffled across the caravan to where her beloved Soldier Joe lay. Hicks stored him as you would an animal, boxed away in a straw-lined cage.
Hope unlocked the door and shuffled in next to the man, pulling him up so that his head rested on her lap.
“Never you mind, Soldier Joe,” she said, “we’ll soon be moving on, and then you’ll be able to get a little sun on your face.”
He grunted, dead to the world, and rolled his face against her thigh. Hicks kept him sedated most of the time, fed him on powders meant for cattle, as far as she could tell. Better that than let him cry out, as he was wont to do. Soldier Joe had seen some bad things in his time, she was sure of that. If only the bullet that had taken out a good-sized piece of his brain and most of his sense could have taken the fear away too. When the powders wore off, he screamed like a beaten baby, and nobody did that unless they had something terrible rattling on them.
Soldier Joe tensed up and mumbled to himself. Wumweh he seemed to say, over and over again.
“I’m sorry, honey,” said Hope, stroking his hair, “I can’t understand you.”
“Wormwood,” said Soldier Joe, opening his eyes and speaking as clear as you like. “We need to go to Wormwood.”
Then he closed his eyes and fell back to sleep.

4. Now…

The Union Pacific got you as far as Omaha, but no further. In a few years the Central Pacific line, cutting its way east from Sacramento, would come to meet the western line, and travelling the length of the country would be possible from the relative comfort of a rail carriage. Until then, the long-distance traveller had little option but to decamp from the luxury of iron tracks and make way under his own steam.
“Come along, my dear,” said Lord Forset, raising a wrinkled hand towards the sun as much to keep the dust from his eyes as the light. “They must be around here somewhere.”
“How can one lose a pack of monks?” his daughter wondered, clambering down from the carriage. “They hardly dress to blend in.”
“Quite,” agreed Forset. He pulled a pair of goggles from his pocket and put them on, making him look even more bizarre than he had already.
Elisabeth looked at him fondly. His crumpled suit and mismatched waistcoat. His hair, which appeared to have achieved autonomy from his scalp, writhing in the hot wind and snatching at the occasional piece of litter that flew by. He was quite at odds with his surroundings, but as this could be said of absolutely anywhere in the world, he achieved a universal quality. The only country in which he felt utterly at home was that strange and complex region found between his left ear and its corresponding fellow on the right. Lord Forset was a full-time resident of his own mind; elsewhere, he was only a visitor.
“Lord Forset?” came a call from further up the platform. “Lord Forset?”
It was a young porter. The loser, had they but known, of a bet between himself and his superior as to who would have to deal with the English pair.
“Yes, my lad,” replied the peer, offering a big-toothed grin that made the kid think of sand-blown marker posts.
“Where do you want your equipment, sir… I mean, my lord…”
“Never mind the manner of address, young man. After all, I can hardly be described as any lord of yours, now, can I? We’re many miles away from my country seat.”
“Thank God,” said his daughter.
“Thank God, indeed,” her father agreed, “considering who’s paying. Speaking of which…” He offered a little bow towards Father Martin, who was walking towards them, the rest of his order hanging back.
“Excuse me!” shouted the immediately recognisable voice of Roderick Quartershaft, pushing his way through his religious-minded travelling companions. “Can a man not set one foot out without tripping over a cassock?”
“This young lad wants to know where to put my equipment,” said Lord Forset, turning back to the porter. “Our transport is scheduled to meet us outside. Load everything up and ferry it to the street, there’s a good chap.”
“The driver should be here to meet us,” said Father Martin. “Perhaps he’s running late?”
“Taken your money and absconded for the hills, more like,” announced Roderick Quartershaft, on the back of breath so alcoholic it would have made a Baptist weep.
“I don’t think there’s any need to assume that yet,” said Father Martin. “Has anyone enquired after our arrival?” He turned to ask the porter, but the young lad had already run back to his superior.
“Can’t wait to be shot of us,” said Quartershaft. “No sense of service in the colonies.”
“Not colonies any more, old chap,” Forset reminded him.
“Not for a long time,” sighed his daughter. “Your knowledge of political geography is astoundingly limited, given your reputation as an explorer,” she added. “It sometimes seems startling that you’ve been anywhere. They say travel broadens the mind, after all.”
“It’s a weak man that lets the opinions and beliefs of others affect his own. I can proudly say there’s not a single continent I’ve set my boots on that has altered my perspective on life.”
“Yes,” Elisabeth replied. “You can say that proudly, can’t you?”
Quartershaft smiled dreamily and Elisabeth wondered if he might actually fall over. “I’m glad I impress, my lady.”
“I say,” Forset shouted, watching as one of his crates swung precariously from a luggage pulley, “careful with that! It contains equipment of a most fragile and temperamental nature.”
The young porter waved his acknowledgement just as one of the ropes came loose and the crate plummeted to the ground.

Henry Jones moved unerringly through the crowds of people on the platform. The dark glasses and cane he carried served to discourage undue attention; he certainly had no need of them. Along with the dark suit and wide-brimmed hat, they helped offer a degree of anonymity. By now, a lot of lawmen would be on the lookout for him. It was better for the life expectancy of those lawmen, and casual passers-by, that they not find him. Even had he not been wishing to keep a low profile, he frequently wore a disguise. Henry Jones had the sort of countenance that drew attention. Unfortunately, uppermost in the list of things he hated—a prodigious and changeable list—was people staring at him. Nobody, not even the beautiful Mrs Harmonium Jones, had the slightest idea how he could tell. His mood was so perpetually sore on the subject that nobody saw fit to ask.
Mrs Jones was also attempting to disguise her appearance, something only really achieved by using a derby hat and a particularly relentless girdle. Her facial hair was a source of great pride, and it would take more than a fear of law officers to get her near a razor, foam and strop.
They also had a crate to negotiate, the contents of which were a little harder to disguise in public and were therefore forced to travel freight.
“There something alive in there, sir?” asked the conductor as he admired the beautifully painted crate on the platform. DR BLISS’S KARNIVAL OF DELIGHTS, it said in curling, scarlet letters, the words sharing space with pictures of roaring lions, chuckling clowns and the snarling face of a top-hatted ringmaster. “Only some of the boys swear they heard something move when they were getting it off the train.”
“It’s just equipment, pal,” said Harmonium in a passable, throaty tone. “Otherwise we’d have filled out the requisite paperwork.”
“Good,” the conductor smiled, “good. Only… we’re supposed to check on all livestock; just for safety, you understand. I mean, I have my passengers to think of.”
“Sure you do,” Harmonium replied, tucking a dollar into his jacket pocket, “and you’ve looked after these two just fine.”
“Oh, well, thank you, sir. Most kind.”
“We particularly appreciated how you left us to our own devices,” added Henry, tilting his thick black lenses towards the man.
The penny dropped. “Oh, naturally. Well, be seeing you, then.” And away went the conductor.
“Rest easy, boys,” whispered Harmonium into one of the discreetly drilled air holes. “We’ll soon have you out of there.”
But before she could receive a reply, everyone on the platform turned towards the air-rending crash of a large packing crate falling to earth and splitting open.
“What the hell was that?” asked Henry. “Someone hurt?”
“I sure hope so, honey,” his wife replied. “What say we go and find out?

“Can I hear a hosanna?” Obeisance Hicks was, as always, inclined to wonder.
On this particular afternoon, his timing was not ideal; the answer was a resounding ‘no.’ The only thing most people within preaching distance could hear was the sound of an almighty crash, followed by considerable panic.
“What in the name of Christ is that?” wondered the not-so-reverent Hicks. He decided that, since his congregation was inclined to abandon the word of God in the hope of finding out, so was he.
“Keep an eye on the messiah,” he muttered to Hope Lane, before wandering into the train station.
She sighed, horribly conscious that he had now drawn attention to her, and nodded.
Inside, Hicks wasn’t the only one wanting to catch a glimpse of catastrophe. He noted, not for the first time, that if there was a way for him to market gawping at the dead and dying, he could pack in the God game for ever. People flocked to blood as surely as flies.
Today they were to be disappointed. As far as Hicks could tell, the crashing sound had been a collection of ironmongery dropped from a height. If it had fallen on anyone, then they were so deeply buried that the gathered crowd had little interest in attempting to save them. There was a good deal of standing around and shaking of heads. That’s the other thing with a crowd, Hicks decided; they all have an opinion and it’s usually the same one. People were dumb as sheep.
“I dread to think what you’ve broken!” cried out one man, with an accent so strongly British that a number of the gathered crowd automatically reached for their guns. There was not a great deal of good feeling towards that particular country; Hicks, being of Dutch stock, couldn’t honestly say he gave a brace of shits on the subject.
“Some of that equipment was irreplaceable,” the man was saying. “Simply irreplaceable!”
As if in agreement, a loud hissing noise erupted from the centre of the piled metal, and the crowd darted back as far as the limited space would allow. Metal clanged and rang out like a church bell under gunfire as a large, crab-like device appeared from underneath the fragments. It sat at the centre of the heap for a few moments, as if content in its nest, and then jumped for the sky.
“Somebody stop it!” the Englishman shouted, and with no further ado, the young woman standing by him began scaling the stationary train.
Hicks decided he may well have fallen in love as he watched her run across the roof of the train in pursuit of the metal creature as it hovered along, like a vulture scanning the ground for carrion.
“Do be careful, darling,” the Englishman suggested—stupidly, in Hick’s opinion, and in that of many there gathered—before turning away in shock as the young woman made a leap for the escaped device. She grabbed it in its midsection and proceeded to fly over the crowd, in a manner that pleased the gathered gentlemen greatly. Showing a consistent lack of regard for feminine decorum, she swung her legs up and grasped the device between them so as to hang from it more securely.
She initially appeared to be fighting it, but after a few moments, Hicks changed his mind, having been reminded of a business acquaintance who he had often watched buttoning up her corsets post-congress.
“Well, I’ll be…” he muttered. “If she ain’t planning on wearing the thing.”
With a final, triumphant click and a whoop from the crowd, the young woman did just that. She righted herself so that she was now stood upright, albeit several feet above the ground, then grasped a pair of handles, pushed forward and swooped gracefully back to earth.
There was a round of applause and, having disengaged whatever engine the thing possessed, she unclasped the legs and took a small bow.
“The Forset Thunderpack,” announced the Englishman with considerable pride. “In full working order!”
The device in question gave an almighty bang and fell silent.
“And thank God I got it back before it had been operational for more than sixty seconds,” said the young girl.
“Why might that be?” asked an impressed observer.
“It has a bad habit of blowing up if ignited for longer than that,” she replied, “and would have likely taken most of this train station up with it.”
The crowd dispersed quickly after that, but Hicks lingered. He’d seen something that had excited that essential heart of him, the black pulsing mass of his pocketbook. He had seen money.
Eventually he turned around and headed back out to his caravan, disinclined to continue in his never-ending mission to save souls and accrue dollars. He might even stay off the whisky a little, give his brain time to think.
Looking up, he wondered why there was a crowd gathered around his caravan. Then he heard the sound of the dopey-minded motherfucker he offered up for the nation’s prayers. The old soldier was shouting his goddamned face off about something. He couldn’t leave the wet-brain alone for a minute.
“Mind out, now,” he shouted, pulling at the shoulders of the idiots that had clustered around. “Nothing to see here. Man of God… coming through…”
They refused to move, fascinated by the sight of the hirsute figure, his white robes stained bloody as his stigmata gushed forth. And what in hell was that he was shouting?
“God damn you,” Hicks shouted, his temper frail at the best of times. He pulled out his gun and shot a couple of bullets into the air. “Shift your sinful asses, you worthless cocksuckers, or I’ll smite each and every one of you with the righteousness of a Colt .45!”
That had more success, and the crowd slowly dissipated while he clambered up onto the makeshift stage he preached from, wondering how to make the idiot shut up without shooting him.
“Wormwood! Wormwood! Wormwood!” the simpleton shouted.
“What the hell’s Wormwood?” Hicks wondered aloud. “Some kind of tequila?”
“It’s the name of a town,” said someone behind him. He turned to see two gentlemen, one with a long and bushy beard, the other blind. The blind man pulled off his dark glasses to reveal a smooth patch of skin where the eyes should be. “And I’d very much like to hear what else he has to say on the subject.”


Sun-shattered and scorched, the dust fields whipped tails at the sky.
The landscape roasted. A world suited only to the dead and to the reptiles and flies that scurry impatiently through the ribcage cathedrals of carrion. They, in turn, are picked off in hit and run assaults by birds, dipping in and out of this wilderness like pearl divers before returning to the skies where the winds blow fresh and clear.
The air was as thick as cooling cooking grease.
It was a quiet world. The feather-light brushstrokes of a sidewinder’s body seemed loud across the dunes; the occasional screeches of a hawk pierced the silence like a railroad spike. The delicate crunch of a horse’s hooves was almost unknown, an intrusive and unwelcome sound. Yet here it was, startling the snakes and lizards into the shadows of their rocks.
The horse moved gracefully, a ballet dancer moving through the inferno.
Its rider was suited to this world. His flesh dry as parchment. Old, tight eyes looked out over the trail and refused to betray a single thought. The pale overcoat he wore fluttered around the horse, the hem ragged and torn. The leather of his boots creaked like coffin lids.
On he rode. On towards Wormwood.