Friday, December 22, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: Black Lodges and Sinister Cities Part 1

You sign the receipt and with a nod to the clerk, bend for your suitcase. Elevator up to your floor, turning left then going ‘Oops,’ and heading right instead. Narrow halls, dim lighting, but it’s an old place and they can’t just tear everything out to put in the latest and greatest. Besides, it adds atmosphere.
A waiter passes you in the hall, a silver tray of champagne glasses on the end of his fingers. They clink as he passes, then the sound stops abruptly. You turn and catch your breath at the sight of an empty hallway. Flickering lights above hasten you to your room.
Constant backward glances along the way do nothing to calm your nerves. For every check if something’s there, comes the growing certainty something is and far more horrifying than the thing you hoped wasn’t there a moment before.
Key in the lock, nothing lines up right. The door is stuck! Then the elevator dings and you hear the clink of glasses once more.
He’s coming back!
You push inside, throwing your suitcase and leaning hard against the door. The lights snap on. The television squeals up a throaty spray of static. The curtains blow, drawers slam open and closed.
A knock on the door!
You cry out but it’s too late! The air itself begins to shimmer and a portal opens above the bed! Skeletal arms reach out amid ragged tatters of blue flame! A demon roars upon you, claws and teeth sinking deep into your flesh!
Outside, the waiter stands watching your door, rattling on its hinges, blood seeping from beneath the crack. He reaches to his tray and plucks off a flute, toasting your agony as you’re dragged screaming into the furious, hell-scorched Beyond.
Welcome to the historic Weird West Motor Lodge, conveniently located upon converging lines of cosmic force featuring demonic apparitions, shadowy ghouls and sixteen luxuriously appointed portals to utter damnation.
At least, that’s how it should play out. We want that, when we think of haunted places. That’s how it should be. The titillation, the tremors, the terror. Acts one through three, in that order, no waiting.
Never does though. Maybe since ghosts – if they do exist – possess some measure of thought. They don’t want themselves known on purpose. Hell, maybe they can’t gather their ‘spiritual piss n’ vinegar’ if you got too many ‘earthbound minds’ staring them down. Who knows.
Fact remains plenty folks got plenty to say on the matter of haunted places and plenty haunted places to choose from. Couldn’t really say what makes a place haunted, like a hotel, though you put one out in the Weird West, you can’t expect much else.
The way lines of force converge, ghost trains roaring by, doomed prospectors, wandering tribes of bloody Indians or murderous soldiers, they’re bound to cross. Stick a building on it, you might as well invite the Devil to dinner. Shit, it’s like you want the place to be haunted.
Can’t speak to it myself. Yeah, I been in the Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence, Kansas, but no, never did get sucked into that otherworldly dimension they say appears in different rooms. I was waiting for a friend, oh, seven, eight years ago, and just sat in the lobby. Being there though, reminded me back in the late 70’s – in town for a funeral – I did have a few beers on the second or third floor. They were apartments back then, I can’t remember who lived there. Didn’t sleep on their couch that night, I’m sure of that. I’d know if I got up to pee and ended up in some dimension.
So, I don’t know from ghosts or the portals or any of that. Never met anyone who does. Not saying it don’t go on, but as close as I get to the Other Side is saying I been in the lobby and had a beer on the second or third floor of a haunted hotel that was once apartments.
Maybe I need to do a little traveling. Say, down South Dakota Way.
Bullock Hotel in Deadwood there is the former property of the one and only Seth Bullock, yes sir. Long before he got his show on HBO though, ol’ Seth was just another entrepreneur, scappin’ his way through one of the deadliest gold towns to ever plant a shovel. He started up a hardware store and thrived at it, then later, became first sheriff the place had ever seen. After that, it was owner/operator of Bullock’s Hotel.
Grand place, with a big restaurant to seat 100, a fine Steinway piano in the lobby and 60-odd lushly appointed rooms. Not a damn thing haunted about it.
That is, until September 1919, when Seth passed on. Or rather, died. Folks say he hasn’t really gone anywhere. Hum a tune or turn idle working in Seth’s place these days and they say there’s a feeling. Not sinister so much as stern, hovering a bit over their shoulder until they pick up the pace again. Apparitions in the rooms and some of the halls and sometimes even Seth himself stops by, down in the basement bar, Seth’s Cellar, just to keep an eye on things.
Now, Seth plan that? ‘Course not. So what’s the deal? Why he get special treatment?
I ain’t here to solve the mysteries of the universe, no. Can’t deny though, some places, at some times, have a certain…gravity. And they maintain it, long after the times have passed which drew that hoorah in the first place. Stones, dirt, wood, it just soaks it up and can’t let go.
Works best, it seems, if those stones are real bloody. And the dirt screams when it blows and that wood sighs under footsteps creaking on toward evil deeds…

Friday, December 15, 2017

WEIRD WEST FICTION: Night of the Six-Gun Gorilla

I adapted this from the original story (by an anonymous author) which first appeared in The Wizard magazine in 1939. It's in the public domain now and we're free to do as we please with it. First order of business was changing the ape's name from O'Neil to O'Shea. Also had to figure a way to make the gorilla smart as a man, and give him know-how on guns. Once done, it was just a matter of taking Anonymous' 80K words about a rundown gundown and tightening that up something
fierce. As a result, several months in the original piece is now one night. 

One hell of a night.

Chapter 1: An Association of Apes

Bart Masters threw down his pick with a grunt of relief. It was almost dark now at the bottom of the shaft. Bent and scarred by a lifetime of toil, sixty-two years felt like two hundred. If he was ever going to spend all the gold he’d torn from the earth the last couple years, he’d have to quit for civilization. Today’s haul and everything stashed under the floor of the cabin, it was more than enough.
It was time.
He finished packing the last bucket and tugged the rope. Foot on the rim, he shouted, “Hoist ‘er on, O’Shea!”
Simple as slick, up he went. Breaking into the crisp air of early evening, Masters grabbed the crosspiece above and stepped out.
“Thanks, son.”
The gorilla shuffled away from the winch handle.
“Hoo,” he grunted. “Heh.”
A tremendous creature and Masters was still taken aback at times. Hunched but huge, at least six foot. Glossy black as a coal broom with a face like a nightmare. Cold weather creature, from what Masters could discern – from its love of daytime shade and evening frolics in the brisk desert – but New Mexico had treated it well enough. ‘Least up in the Cristobals this time of year. Spring was always kind.
The old man had never up and asked where the thing had come from, though part of him figured if he did, it might answer.
It had to do with the scar above its eye, certainly. Oh, there were others. The creature contained an entire history of some terrible practice head to foot. Rakes along its skull, its chest. Long scrapes and trails visible when the breeze moved the fur on its arms and legs. But the one on its head was the thing. A puckered hole in, with a pink, hairless exit around back.
Which had to be a bullet. There was no other explanation. Something had creased its brain and cinched up the years Mr. Darwin said held the apes and men apart.
When Masters had found the beast shuffling dust on the horizon as he’d dragged his wagon to the claim, there was no denying the craft in its eyes. The grunts when Masters had leaned in the saddle to coo at it like some pet. No words, but the ape had gestured back the way it came and even gave some small shrugs, as if to say:
I got real problems back there. What’s going on up this way?
Did it understand like a man? Masters had decided it did. At the very least, the animal seemed to understand Masters, little as it could tell of itself. He’d named it for his own wife Maggie, gone to the fever years back and since, found something of comfort in the thing’s company, if not outright friendship.
Now, the old man directed the bucket into a few sacks and got them loaded on the horse. O’Shea knuckled beside, long arms out front to tuck its legs and do his hop-gallop down the edge of the mountain toward the cabin below. The last bit of sun winkled on the creek flowing beside it and Masters had to smile.
Dragonfly Mine, he called his piece of the world, and there’d been no better stroke of luck around it. Either in the gold itself, or chancing upon O’Shea to help him turn it out. The beast had fallen right to work, easy as pie.
Even got down in the shaft at times with the pick and shovel. Masters felt foolish speaking like he did to the animal, spouting odd thoughts throughout the day, but damned if it wasn’t easy. He just knew there were notions in that creature’s mind. Thoughts of loves and hates, pasts and futures.
Everything was in them eyes, the way they looked right at him. Felt shameful to consider, but Masters often wished that bullet had gone deep enough to knock some words loose.
“’Bout time, I think,” he said, swinging a leg off the horse. Without being told, the ape grunted over and helped unload the sacks.
“How ‘bout you?”
O’Shea snuffled, cradling one of the sacks like an infant.
“Civilization? Y’all got one o’ those?” Masters untied the other sack and let it drop, to give the horse some relief. “Some ape society?”
O’Shea grunted again ‘hoo, ho-ho’ and waddled up the porch, shaking his head.
‘Ape Society.’ You’re a card, old man.
Masters led the horse to its corral around back, a horizontal post next to the outhouse and tool shack. Charity was a fine Appaloosa, quick and strong and made stronger for all her work hauling out the mine. He went in the shack for a blanket and feedbag, tying oats on and heaving the saddle off. He draped the blanket in its place and gave her a pat. Wiping his hands on his front, he took in the sunset one more time with a deep, satisfying breath.
It was just touching the top of the woods at the end of the grassy field. This, just past the creek. The woods carpeted another slope, steeper than his mine was and continued down toward town. From just above the mine, it was easy enough to see the place out there.
Copper Drop was built on the paraje Fray, the last hospitable land on the Royal Road, the Camino Real just before Jornada Basin. The Royal itself ran 1500 miles, Mexico City to Santa Fe and oh, dangers abounded. But that southern piece through the basin, 100 miles to the border, was considered the worst of it. They called it Jornada Del Muerto, or Dead Man’s Route.
A powerful hell, made worse for the fact the mountains followed you the whole way, hiding the Rio Grande behind ‘em. ‘Least ’til Fort Selden, but most were dead by then.
Powerful hell. Only seemed right a shitty minin’ burg like Copper Drop sat at the head of it.
Be good to finally leave. Good to be back in the world with telephones and canned fish and that new kinda water closet. Shit, Yale gone and give some nigger a goddamn degree! Oh, they could do anything back in the world. A man met it head-on or got to runnin’. And no man ran that damn fast.
The old man sighed.
Inside, the gorilla had already pried up the loose boards and stowed their day’s take. While he sat beside the black-belly stove picking burrs from his coat, the old man set about some supper.
They chatted over it, or, Masters did, spooning stew at his little table while the ape retired to the corner. Here, he fed up on some grass and flowers from the wooden bin. O’Shea and the old man went out of a morning or night, picking flowers and thistles and tying them in bundles for the beast to eat.
The ape mostly grazed the land on his own – eating as much as he did everyday – but their picking expeditions were a way to relax. And the little bundles were like bites of food at a man’s table, when Masters was taking his own evening meal. O’Shea could use a chair and sometimes sat across, but seemed to prefer his corner.
“So, you ain’t said much,” Masters said, licking out his bowl and setting it on the shelf. He stared at the Territory map on the wall, then took up a log from beside the stove. He cleared his throat and creaked open the front to toss it in.
“So, then.”
O’Shea grunted.
“Back to town ‘fore long? No?”
The ape munched and snorted and waved a hand.
Foolishness. I can’t be among Men.
“What’s that?” Masters imitated the gesture. “You sayin’ no? Why the hell not?”
O’Shea held out his foot, that brand burned into the heel. The number 9 in peculiar script, inside a circle.
Where do you think this came from?
“Well –”
He let it go and whapped a palm over his eye, at the hole there.
And this?!
“C’mon now, not all’re bad. We’ll take it slow, maybe –”
O’Shea stood with a snarl. It wasn’t aggressive as such. Masters had never feared for himself around the gorilla. But he knew when enough was enough. He held up his hands and looked at the floor with a sigh.
“Conve’sation over.”
The gorilla stared at him.
“Don’t have to go nowhere y’don’t want.”
O’Shea snorted again.
Uh huh.
He knuckled to the door and pushed outside.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The Bloody Benders Part 4

Well, we know ol’ Hank York was found in that orchard by his brother Colonel Ed. Remember I mentioned that third brother, Alex? Well, ol’ Alex, he was a man with some pull, a Kansas senator who decided upon the results of Ed’s efforts, that a reward would hasten the capture of that sinister slasher family.
   $1,000 back then was a piece of money, no question. About 20 grand these days and that got some attention. Governor of that fine state, Mr. Osborn saw ol’ Alex step up and offered $2,000 on top. Whoever caught them murderin’ sumbitch Benders well, they was in for a hell of a payday.
   The chase was on.
   Of course, before heading off to skate along that razor sharp horizon and bring a vengeful thunder upon the culprits, there were certain…local matters to attend to. The Benders kept to themselves for the most part, sure, but their dread business still meant a certain amount of actual business and that meant accessories.
   They nabbed about a dozen of them type-folks, those lawmen and vigilantes. People of ‘ill-repute’ known to associate with the Benders, the thought likely being, their arrest would, if not produce the whereabouts of their fugitive murderers, at least cultivate some goodwill with respect to their efforts toward finding them. Even ol’ Brockman made the scene again.
   This wasn’t smoke and mirrors, now. Not entirely. Every one that stood in jail or before some judge had their hand in tying up loose ends. Mainly in disposing of, or fencing, the stolen goods of the Bender victims. Hell, they even squared away a member of the Vigilante Committee itself! Oh, Mit Cherry, he’d gone and written up a letter supposed to be from one of the victims, saying he’d arrived safely at his destination.
   The man had not, of course. Had the Benders? It was time to find out.
   After all, wagons did leave tracks and the Benders did leave in one. Some detectives hired on followed these and came upon a handful of half-dead horses teamed to it about ten miles from the Bender Inn. From there, witnesses pointed them along that the Benders (or folks like ‘em) had bought some train tickets.
   In a town south called Chanute KS, the Bender kids left the train and hied toward Texas on their own. Outlaw conclave on the border of Texas and New Mexico awaited and they were not pursued. No, that was the badlands for many reasons and the law hesitated to tread there. Or so they say. Could be that, could also be they were just surmising the kids’ destination and couldn’t afford the expense of being wrong. Ma and Pa, though, stayed on that train and – some say – went east, arriving finally in St. Louis, MO.
   From here, well, no one knows. Stories abound. Everyone says they saw the Benders, chased the Benders, even killed ‘em. Little House on the Prairie gal, Ingalls, said her dad was on a Vigilance Committee gone caught the family and strung ‘em up or shot ‘em, she’s not specific.
   It’s not a tale much believed, mainly for the math. The Ingalls’ moved from the area in 1871 when Miss Laura was 4. Bender story didn’t break until 1873. The others over the years, well, that’s more speculation. There’s even less to support these claims, but at the same time, they’re mostly contemporary with the times. Ms. Ingalls brought hers up long after, in 1937.
   Whether they told the tale in some saloon, or to the law itself, burning, hanging or shooting down the evil Bender clan, it don’t much matter. Not a soul ever brought in a scrap of evidence to support themselves and not a one ever laid claim to that fine pile of money, that 3 grand waitin’ for whoever run ‘em down.
   So folks talked, as folks do. The Benders had escaped and for the next fifty years, would remain so. That is, until it was safe to assume each of them had died. Meantime, there were the tales of who’d killed them, and every so often, a story about how they’d actually just died or been arrested.
   Take the case of an old man fitting Pa Bender’s description, arrested in Idaho for killing someone with a hammer to the head. He was brought in, but cut off his own foot to get out of his leg irons. That worked back then about as well as it would now, and yes, the man bled to death. By the time they got a Kansas deputy out to ID the remains, the corpse had rotted too far. Nevertheless, the folks in our fine potato state took credit for the capture and long displayed the man’s skull in a local saloon as that of Pa Bender. That is, until Prohibition, when the place closed and someone grabbed them bones as a souvenir.
   There’s also the damned strange case of Almira Monroe and Sarah Davis, arrested as Kate Jr. and Ma Bender in 1889. Each accused the other of being either Kate Jr. or Ma, and who really knows why. It’s a host of blog posts to just suss out the details of the preliminary reports. They were crooks, true enough, but it was determined that they were not the ladies in question.
   All in all then, the Benders were long gone. Stayed gone, too. Twenty victims total, they say, once the graves were counted, assumptions were made and body parts got strung back together. Most were claimed and laid to rest where need be. Those that weren’t were re-interred in a specially ordained area south or so of the Bender orchard, called ‘The Benders Mounds’.
   Now, whether it’s an inn at the gateway to the Weird West, or a marker showing the souls claimed upon its threshold, any place got the Bender name on it is one howling with ghosts and daring you to visit.
   I wouldn’t recommend it.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The Bloody Benders Part 3

   The Bender Family has struck! From their little inn beside the Osage Trail, they have claimed at least nine travelers, perhaps even a dozen. A search party has uncovered several shallow graves on the property, a well full of body parts and a mysterious trapdoor by the dining table inside. In the room beneath lay a pool of dried blood. This pointed somehow to the killers’ design, but how?
   Well, no one really knows. But their assumptions aren’t so far-fetched, given the evidence. It was a dining table, after all, so obviously, the devils did their work at mealtime.
Say, a person wanders in, dusty from the road and desires a night’s sleep. Perhaps a meal. Supper, or maybe breakfast. Given the blows cracked on the skulls of the recovered bodies (and those found in the previous years, dumped in the nearby woods) a hammer played a role.
   The traveler sits at the table, perhaps about to eat, perhaps just done. He sits back to review his plate before he begins, or, finished, does so to lay his hands on a satisfied belly. The trapdoor is right there beneath them, what better time? What better position for say, Ma or Pa Bender, even one of the kids to come up behind and…
   Right on the head.
   It makes some blood, true, but it doesn’t splash. No, it doesn’t flow like it’d have to if that stone-floored chamber below was to be as drowned as it was in the stuff. For that, you need a slit throat.
Who knows who done that, doesn’t matter. The guest reeling from the hammer, they’re easy pickins. Open the trap, dump the body and follow ‘em down. It’s not like movies where you just draw the knife across the windpipe now, no. The windpipe is tough as leather. Like slashing a garden hose or something. You gotta jam that blade in beside the hose and saw like wood. Sometimes even hack at it. Veins and arteries all over the neck. What a show it made, no question.
   The gasps and gurgles done, the room hot and dripping, the killer would wipe their face (oh, they had it all over them, to be sure) the knife was slicked across a skirt or a pantleg and well, who knows? Maybe it was a private deal and they just stood down there, listening to the blood seep between the paving stones. Maybe the whole family was standing around, licking their lips where they got splashed or sucking their fingers. Maybe they just crouched above, peering down the hole, pissed that it wasn’t their turn this time.
   Whatever the case, when it was done, it was done. Then the body was stripped of its goods – even its clothes, in some cases – and hauled back up to bury outside. If they had no goods, well, maybe the Benders didn’t know that and just assumed. Maybe they knew just fine and did it anyway.
   And now, this ain’t total conjecture, no. Talk from folks who’d stayed at the Inn and run afoul of the family – escaping before they could come to harm – do support the previous. A Catholic padre saw one of the Benders hide a hammer when he looked too quick in one direction. He left right after. Gent called Bill Pickering said when he had a problem with seating arrangements at the table, Kate Jr. pulled a knife. Off he went to live another day.
   There were two men arrived on word o’ Kate’s ‘psychic powers’ and decided to stay for a meal. They didn’t sit proper at the table either, and took to a nearby counter. That wouldn’t do. Enter: Pa John Bender and John Jr. looking surly. The guests looked at each other, looked at their meal, looked at the Bender boys. Goodbyes were said and off they went.
   Besides the graves, the body limbs and the bloody room under the trapdoor, the search party also found a dozen or so holes in the ceiling and walls of the inn. Bullet holes, which only supports that folks at one time or another got into a corner there at the Bender Inn and either fought as they died, or fought their way back to life. No one can say.
   So, there it be. The Bender Inn, site of travesty and tragedy, gossip and gore, empty of all but a few lone bodies to tell the tale of a murderous band of homicidal homesteaders. Would that be all? Body parts and shallow graves? Were the Benders to simply flee, free of their crimes?
   Oh, no.
   With the search party led by Colonel York, the near hanging of Brockman and the community uprising over the bodies found, this would not be – excuse the pun – laid to ‘rest’ so easily.
   Word do spread in the west and when it’s Weird, well, it goes that much faster. Heaven and Hell have a way with the mind and those tuned to its frequency are ever so certain of its meaning. And the tune they sang, long before radio scratched out its songs on the curve of empty skulls wondering where the world went was:
   Where were the Benders?
   A fine question and one many sought to answer. The findings of the search party made the news quickly and papers were snapped open in the following days and heads were shook over morning coffee.
   Onlookers soon came to gawk at the Bender Inn and even more reporters swarmed. New York, Chicago, they all wanted to walk the site and breathe those bloody fumes. It didn’t take more than days, weeks, and the Bender Inn was overcome completely. Fools asking questions, making notes, clawing for a piece of history and before long, the whole place was gone to the baseboards.
   Every item in it, every piece of furniture, every knick and knack. Even bricks and stones and bits of wood down in that bloody cellar beneath the horrible trapdoor. They even took pieces of the well.
   And still, holding those totems close and trying to infer some meaning from them, that question remained:
   Where the hell were the Bloody Benders?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The Bloody Benders Part 2

   So the Benders had blown their cover in a hail of kitchen knives and coffee curses. Ed York was hot on their trail, or would be once he got the evidence he was after that the Benders had disappeared his brother the year before.
   But he wasn’t the only one looking to start piecing things together. Several nearby communities were joining forces to point some serious fingers. A few weeks after Ed’s last visit to the inn, a town hall meeting was arranged, attended by seventy-some locals, including Colonel Ed and Pa Bender himself.
   Grievances were aired, questions raised and a decision was come to. It was time to get some search warrants and start turning over every stone in every house between Big Hill and Drum Creek. Pa Bender naturally made use of this information to his great advantage.
   Few days later, lad by the name of William Tole happened by the Bender Inn where lo and behold, a palpable sense of neglect and abandonment seemed to prevail. No one home and the Bender’s animals all appeared to be unfed. It was rough weather coming in though, so after Master Tole recounted his discovery to the township, it was several days before they could investigate.
   Once they did though, they went in force. Hundreds of volunteers came calling, tried and true each and every one, ready to heed the plight of starving chickens where tales of madwomen brandishing butcher knives had failed. Colonel Ed led the charge and off they went to storm the gates of the sinister Bender Inn.
   They weren’t to be disappointed.
   No Benders of course, but no food or clothing, either. Nearly every stitch and scrap had been hauled off, leaving only the dust and silence and the haunting notes of some peculiar smell.
   The search party ran the edges of the room, drawing curtains and opening cabinets. They sniffed to the rafters and down along the floor. And there they had it. A trapdoor by the dining room table, nailed fast. It was short work to pry it up, where they found…!
   An empty room.
   However, there was no missing the blood on its stone floor. It was comprised of several heavy slabs, laid side to side. They called for sledges and spent hours wrecked it up, but no bodies were found. The smell was obviously the blood itself, but enough of it, that it’d soaked into the seams between the slabs and into the soil beneath. It left them all with only one recourse.
   They had to lift the entire cabin.
   Yes, sir that group went shoulder to shoulder and every strong back among them raised up the cabin in their mighty, calloused hands and moved it right out the way. They then got to work digging the soil there, but to no avail. Not a single corpse was found.
   ‘So where’s that leave us?’ someone likely asked.
   ‘I can’t think of a single thing. We looked inside the house, we looked under the house.’
   ‘That’s a real puzzler.’
   ‘What about around the house?’ someone offered.
   ‘Whatdya mean?’
   ‘The yard, say. Y’think someone might be crazy enough to perhaps bury something in the yard?’
   ‘Instead of moving their cabin, depositing bodies there, then moving it back?’
   ‘I know it sounds wild, but my god – what if I’m right?!’
   ‘What if you’re wrong?!’
   Fair enough, it didn’t go quite that far, but Lord only knows why those fools didn’t just hunt around the place first.
   So that’s what they did. Got themselves some long metal poles and starting poking around. They concentrated especially on the garden and orchard, both of which – bear with me folks – appeared to have been freshly dug up and refilled. It was here they found their first body. And where Colonel Ed found his poor brother. Dropped facedown Hank was, barely beneath the surface.
   On they went into the evening hours, marking suspect sites for future excavation. Next day they came back, and sure enough, pulled out eight bodies. Another one was thrown in the well as were several random body parts. Oh, the Benders had been busy, indeed. Damn near every one of ‘em had their head bashed and throat cut. Except one. No apparent injuries on that one, a young girl. Ma and Pa had decided to strangle her or bury her alive, no one’s quite sure.
   Naturally, the whole ordeal pissed them folks right off. They had to point it at someone and if not the Benders, well, maybe someone in that crowd right there by the inn.
   ‘You knew the Benders, didn’t you?’
   ‘Good friends with ’em as a matter of fact.’
   ‘How’d you like us to hang you right here and now?’
   ‘I wouldn’t!’
   ‘Too fuckin’ bad.’
   And up he went on the end of a rope until he passed out. They let him down, woke him up and started asking questions. Where were the Benders? Where were their other victims? Why’d they do it? When they didn’t get the answers they wanted, they strung him up again.
   Eventually, they let ol’ Brockman go and he staggered home like a man who’d been hung several times and yelled at by a crowd of vengeful townfolk. He didn’t know a thing, or maybe, knew things too horrible to speak of. Who can say.
   After all, where had the Benders hied off to? What the hell was their motive in the first place? And how did they do it? Were they dragging folks out of bed of a night and cutting them up? Waitin’ in the shower or closet with them hammers and knives?
   No, they weren’t. Didn’t have showers or closets back in the Old West, anyway. No, the Benders had another method, and in tune with their gibberish speaking, coffee cursing, psychic wizard ways…
   It was pretty damn creepy.
   And plenty weird.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The Bloody Benders Part 1

   The Bloody Benders were a savage crew. A cult, you might even say. Slashed and pounded their way through a host of victims out there in the Weird West. Merciless serial killers and yep, I said serial killers. Might be thinking Jack the Ripper is the Man in this case, but no sir. That was 1899 and H. H. Holmes came before, 1893 (and that one did business well before that.) Serial Killing goes back real far, Roman Times even and well before that. Hell the term itself is only 30-some years old. Early 80’s word some fed or other came up with.
   Back in the day, it was just called killing. Lots and lots of killing. In 1871, it was ol’ John Bender, his lady Kate and their two kids, John and Kate Jr. Some say the kids weren’t siblings at all but husband and wife. Or maybe the husband and wife were actually brother and sister. Some go further and say the whole damn family wasn’t ‘related’ as such. Not a lotta records on those folks. Plenty on their doings, though. There’s no missing any o’ that.
   Now, things for the Benders got started after the Civil War. The feds moved some Indians off Kansas land and down to what would become Oklahoma. That left the vacated premises open to homesteaders and the Benders were one of a handful of families decided to make their mark. Ol’ John took a liking to a piece beside the Great Osage Trail, which happened to be the only western road for folks headed to the frontier.
   They put up a cabin and split it in two, back half for the family, front for a little store and area where travelers could get a night’s rest. Even had a little garden and an apple orchard. Real quaint-type setup. The Benders were spiritualists but this ain’t what set ‘em apart. Spiritualism was new, but not unheard of and them homesteaders came to that Kansas land were all of a like-mind. No, what did it was the cultural deal going on with the family.
   Pa Bender was possibly German and didn’t speak much English. What he could say, couldn’t be understood. Ma Bender was locally branded a she-devil for her pissy, vicious ways. The two kids were the cherry on top. John Jr. liked to laugh to himself for no reason at all and Kate Jr. claimed to be a psychic with healing powers. She used to canvass the area with fliers advertising same and also did a few séances. She gave speeches about Spiritualism and even pushed for Free Love. This was obviously popular for a number of reasons and drummed up some real good business for the Bender Family Inn.
   Fact, so good, apparently the Benders had to start ‘gettin rid’ of all them guests. One was a man by the name of Jones. Head bashed, throat cut, found up in nearby Drum Creek. Mining site – a claim anyway – and they thought the man who lived there did it, but no. Year later, 1872, two more found, bashed and slit. Two men. By the next year reports of missing folks got so common people stopped using that part of the Osage Trail.
   It was already considered a “bad part of town” enough that Vigilance Committees (soon to be their own post here, that’s certain) made it a practice to start rounding up their own suspects for the murders. A few they gave to the local law, a few they ran out of town. A few others, who can say. Vigilance Committees…well, anyone keeps watch over the Weird West long enough, it does strange things to you.
   Any rate, one of those “missing persons” the Committees were so fired up on, George Longcor and his baby girl, had a friend name of Henry York. George dropped off the planet winter of ’72 or so, York came looking for him that next year. Stopped along the trail asking after them, but no, no sign. And soon after, no sign of Mr. York. Now, ol’ Hank had two brothers, Ed and Alex and they didn’t like this one bit. Ed, a Colonel in the Army, figured fifty stout soldiers would be just the thing to suss out Hank’s whereabouts.
   March 1873, Ed darkened the door at the Bender Inn, asking after ol’ Hank and where the hell was he. The Benders said ‘Sure, Hank, we know that fella. He was here, then he left. You know what probably happened? Injuns.’ Now remember, the Old West was a tough place and murder happened. Even serial murder but without a proper internet and good ol’ tube, well, folks were more naïve.
   ‘You know what?’ said Ed, ‘That’s a right possibility. Got any dinner?’ And that woulda been that.
   Ed ate, he left with his boys and continued his search. That is, until a few days later when a woman ran screaming from the inn, Ma Bender hot on her trail with a carving knife. The lady got away, but the tale took shape and soon enough, Ed was back with his crew, arms crossed tight and foot tapping, I’ll wager.
   ‘You said you didn’t kill nobody, start talkin’.’
   ‘She was a witch!’ Ma Bender said. ‘She cursed my damn coffee! What else was I gonna do?’
   Oh, yes. That was Kate Sr.’s claim. Coffee witches.
   ‘Coffee witch,’ said Ed. ‘That’s your deal.’
   ‘Sure is,’ said Ma Bender. ‘But I’ll tell you what. Come back in a few days, my daughter will use her psychic powers and find your friend.’
   ‘Hm,’ said Ed. ‘Let’s do that, then.’
   And off he went with his boys in tow.
   ‘I think that went well,’ said ol’ Ed.
   But his men didn’t agree. ‘Hang ‘em all’ was the general consensus.
   ‘Y’think?’ asked Ed. ‘I mean, they weren’t just…folksy?’
   No, said his men. There is some weird shit going on in that place.
   Ed probably sighed.
   ‘Oh fine, then. Let’s get some damn evidence…’