Stories

Gunning for the Buddha (a story collection)

Fifteen of the best stories I wrote in the first decade of my writing career. It was a fun decade.

Includes “Gunning for the Buddha,” “Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies,” “Visions of Suburban Bliss,” “A Feast at the Manor,” “Unplugged,” “Working the Game,” “Explosions,” “Wantaviewer,” “Mud and Salt,” “Crossing the Camp,” “Black Angels,” “The Disillusionist, “Coal Ash and Sparrows,” “An Outrider’s Tale,” and “Natural Order.”

“Spend some time with these stories and you’re bound to bump into people you know who find themselves in places you’ve only dreamed about.” Hugo-winning author James Patrick Kelly

224 pages (trade paperback version). First published January 2005 by Prime Books, reprinted by UnWrecked Press.


UnWrecked Tales (a story collection)

UnWreckedTales_150This special ebook includes stories and novel excerpts from a wide range of UnWrecked Press offerings, many of which are original to this ebook and not available anywhere else.

Includes “Finder” (related to The Finder Team), a chapter from Family, Pack, “A Miracle in Shreveport” (from The All Nations Team), a chapter from A Gathering of Doorways ch 2, “A Ghost in Her Heart” (related to Heart’s Revenge), “Mud and Salt” (from The Wannoshay Cycle), a chapter from The Prodigal Sons, “Coal Ash and Sparrows” (related to the Contagious Magic series), the prologue to A Lasting Cure for Magic, “An Outrider’s Tale” (from Gunning for the Buddha), and “In the Process of Disappearing” (related to the comic In Maps & Legends).

To get this ebook, you simply need to subscribe to the UnWrecked Press newsletter.


Individual Stories

Click the story title or cover to read some of the story online or to get access to an ebook version of the story.

1. Coal Ash and Sparrows

CoalAshSparrows_150Lina Seymour had been putting off going into the barn all day. Less than a week ago, the doctor had come to tell her, her mother, and her younger sister about her father’s fall from the church roof. Daddy had been working with a crew of three other men, trying to finish shingling the roof of the new Petersburg church before a storm blew up. The rickety old wooden ladder on which he’d been standing had given way when he reached for a fistful of shingles. He lingered for almost four days, his face and body swollen and unfamiliar in the back room of the doctor’s office. Then two days ago he simply let out a long sigh and never drew in another breath.

  • Now available as an ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Smashwords.
  • First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, January 2004.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 22.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 18.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.
  • Reprinted in Cornstalk Gypsies, October 2008.
  • A prequel of sorts to the novel A Sudden Outbreak of Magic.

2. The Inverted Bearded Boy of Chicago

BeardedBoy_150“Professor Challenger, thank you for sharing that thrilling tale of your adventure in the Lost World.It makes me mindful of the time when I encountered the inverted bearded boy of Chicago.”

Wreathed in smoke, the man who had just spoken lifted his head from where he sat at a table near the window, a handcarved wooden pipe in his hand. Curly gray hair, long muttonchops, and a jutting pink chin framed his somber expression. He wore a dark, hooded overcoat, and his humorless brown eyes drifted once to the window before he spoke, as if looking for the abovementioned boy from across the sea.

3. Family, New and Old

FamilyNewOld_150After running for half an hour in the moon-lit woods on the Westhoff farm south of town, Tommy could tell he’d lost a few steps, which at his age was pretty damn pathetic. Frozen sticks snapped like bones under his feet, and he dodged bare tree limbs reaching for his eyes as if he could hear their approach.

He pushed himself harder, heart thumping, blood rushing, vision going crystalline with clarity. The bark on the big oaks, crawling with tiny bugs. The wet slurp of the cold mud under his feet close to the tiny stream. The mad scamper of other animal feet through the undergrowth—squirrel, rabbit, gopher, mouse—fleeing his huffing approach.

4. Finder

Finder_150Wedged into the unforgiving passenger seat of a twelve-year-old Ford Escort, I took a deep breath and shoved another fat fistful of junk food into my mouth. This was my job, this was my life.

My old friend Hanky J sat perched and tense in the driver’s seat, waiting on me but not watching me. We were down in what felt like no-man’s-land for a couple of guys from the mountains—ten miles north of Arkansas City. Both of us cold and miserable in the rain, sitting in front of a wide expanse of brown, slow-moving Mississippi.

5. A Miracle in Shreveport

MiracleShreveport_150We were lucky to make it out of Shreveport alive on that early spring day in 1917.

At noon, before the first game of our doubleheader, my All Nations team was taking batting practice, and as usual, I was studying the crowd. The people fascinated me: all those life stories that I’d never get a chance to hear, like that old colored man smiling and singing to himself next to his stern, frowning wife in her flowered hat, or the two white women with their cigarettes and exposed ankles. I was amazed by it all, though we never stayed in a place long enough to learn about anyone or anything more than the game and its players.

6. The Champ Escapes

ChampEscapes_150Once you’ve seen a man who’s larger than life, you never forget him.

You can tell who is he even from across a ball field, just by the way he walks or holds his shoulders. Even if years have passed since you last were in his presence, and time has taken more and more from you, greedy as a spoiled child.

7. Wantaviewer

Wantaviewer_150Alissa Trang couldn’t keep herself away from the Winnipeg slum. She called in sick for her evening shift behind the counter at CanTechWorld once again and hitched a ride up Highway 3 into the city. For the entire ride from Sanford to Winnipeg, she kept her mouth clamped shut to keep from screaming at the old man driving the antique Saab to go faster. Faster. Everything was too slow for her when Ally wasn’t using Blur. She would’ve borrowed her housemate’s car, but she didn’t trust herself to drive after a visit to Jenae’s in the bad part of the city.

8. Explosions

Explosions_150Of course everyone blames the aliens. But they were working right up until ten minutes before the blast, that’s what really bothers me, and that’s what makes me think it was all just bad timing. Bad timing for Janna and me, too, when I stop and think about it. We’d be long gone from here if it hadn’t been for the Wannoshay. Now I’m out of work, we’ve moved everything out of our apartment once again, and the investigators are asking me what I know.

9. Mud and Salt

MudandSalt_150Skin followed Georgie and Matt out of the pickup, his entire body shivering despite the three layers of clothing he wore.  Outside the truck, the early-morning November air was crisp, with just a hint of wind that seeped through his camouflage jacket.  Skin felt Matt watching him in the semi-darkness, making his shoulder blades itch until Georgie slapped him on the back and handed him a rifle.  Once all three were armed, they stood in an empty field a mile from the abandoned Omaha Indian reservation. 

According to the guy in the bar last night, the alien had been seen in the area the previous afternoon.

10. Crossing the Camp

CrossingCamp_150At the west entrance to the detainment camp, government workers string another layer of wire against the wall.  It uncoils through human hands like a metal snake without a head.  I tell Jaime Mundo, my new trainee, that the fence will be electrified by the time we leave tonight.  He nods, fingers twitching for rosary beads that aren’t there, and I force a smile his way.  We pass the guard house and enter the camp.  He’s going to have to learn quickly.

11. Drinker

Drinker_150The path itself remained the same, a trampled indentation of ice and snow wending its way first through black rocks and stubborn tufts of purpling vegetation, then over featureless blue ice until it reached the melted edge of the ocean. Its span, however, was always lengthening over time, like a hair-tentacle attached to the head of an always-eating foundling. At one end, our encampment of huts ringed with caves remained static, while the vital salt water at the other end of our march grew more distant with each frozen cycle.

12. The Chicken Project

ChickenProject_150Looking out at the muddy pasture at ten minutes past seven in the morning, inhaling the eye-watering scent of fresh manure, John Koopman figured out why he’d always hated living on the farm. Back in Chicago, he’d always been busy: moving stocks, tracking the markets, keeping careful notes on hundreds of clients. And then, after the markets closed, he’d spend hours sorting through the mess of newspapers, client files, and computer printouts strewn across his office like so much litter or hay.

13. The Rise and Fall of Basskick

Basskick_150The year I turned forty was the year it hit me at last that I wasn’t going to make it as a rock star.

It’s the kind of thing can bring a guy like me down. I never talked about it with my friends. They never talked about it with me. But I knew it. Deep down. Inside the eyes of the guys working underneath the hoods of the cars at my shop. The guys that came in off the farms, dusty, bits of corn still in their coats and seed caps, coming in off the fields, manure still stuck to their boots. Needing us to fix their wife’s cheap compact cars so they could commute to their part-time jobs in Raleigh or Rocky Mount. All of us carried this fact inside us.

14. Natural Order

NaturalOrder_150They picked me up outside Wilmington, North Carolina, just before the rain began, but not before the gale-force winds blew the cigarette out of my mouth.  In the dark, I touched the fresh pack of Camels in my coat pocket with relief, feeling more tired than usual.  But as long as I had my smokes and my ride, the wind and the rain didn’t bother me.  That was just my nature.  In a matter of speaking.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Smashwords.
  • First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 2002.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 20.
  • Available as an audio podcast from Escape Pod, April 2006.
  • Reprinted in Polish magazine Nowa Fantastyka, 2006.
  • Reprinted in the Relief Anthology The Fleas They Carried, May 2009.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.

15. An Outrider’s Tale

OutridersTaleCover_150After the short, lopsided battle, as the younger warriors hauled the dead bandits out of the old castle, the man known only as Seeker carried a bottle of dark wine over to where the outrider known only as Fist sat, alone.

Though the Code forbade him to ask the history of another outrider, Seeker needed to know the man’s story. Now that the fighting was over, his goal was to loosen the tongue of the big, scarred man. Night had fallen, yet the moon shone brightly through holes in the ruined roof of the tower. Seeker’s eyes had been trained, in his first life, to see perfectly in pitch-black night, but when he stepped up next to where Fist rested, he doubted what his eyes saw.

The big man was cradling in his hands a perfect red rose.

16. Gunning for the Buddha

GunningCover_150We killed the Buddha for the first time outside of Berlin.

It was fitting that we caught sight of him walking barefoot next to the autobahn, where it would be a real bitch to stop in time to pick him up.  But we were nothing if not up for a challenge.  I brought our ’75 Firebird screeching to a stop next to him on the narrow shoulder, giving him a few centimeters of breathing room between muscle car and blocky metal guardrail, and opened the passenger door.  Traffic screamed past us like bullets as the little man lifted his robes and stepped into the car.  With a groan, Ari had jumped into the back and onto Marco’s lap, crushing Annina, Marco, and Yeshev.  The Buddha rode shotgun.

17. Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies

SurferZombiesCover_150People stopped coming to the North Carolina coast when the dead returned to the beach after four decades away.  Got to the point where folks couldn’t sit outside their own beachside trailers with a case of Bud without some rotting corpse staggering up and asking for directions to the cemetery or the bars or the bait shop, the whole time smelling like spoiled tuna.  They killed us for most of the entire tourist season before we realized what they were up to and actually did something about ‘em.  Goddamn zombies.

18. The Disillusionist

TheDisillusionistCover_150I was a day behind him, riding west as fast as my horse would allow.  He held my future in his rotting, trembling hands, though neither of us knew it then.

Until my deputization just fifteen days ago, I had been flailing and floundering with the direction of my life like a tired man in deep water.  I left Kentucky years ago, traveling to Orleans and Illinois, searching for something more from life, knowing I needed to do my part for my country.  This nomadic life came hard on the heels of my defeat for the Illinois General Assembly, which in its turn followed the nightmare of the Black Hawk War.  It was the summer of 1834, and I was twenty-five.

19. Fences

FencesCover_150Canton woke with a gasp, his ears cold and the taste of metal in his mouth from the worn-out space heater two feet away from his bed. It must have dropped below freezing again, he thought, staring at the scratches of frost crisscrossing the two mismatched windows of the guest house. The bedroom he left behind five years ago had been offered to him on an almost daily basis since his return home, but Canton couldn’t share a roof with anyone else right now. He needed the space – such as it was in his parents’ eight-by-ten renovated storage shed – that the guest house offered. It wouldn’t be much longer until he was back on his feet again.

20. Remainders

RemaindersCover_150Jaret Lazarus forced his eyes to remain open as the Pantheron burned through the entry atmosphere of Socorro.  He rested his hand on his upper thigh, a few centimeters from the two rows of five buttons on his belt.  The interior of the ship smelled like rotting fruit, sulphur, and sweat, thanks to the proximity of the members of his squadron.  He shifted his weight, pulling his gut free from where his belt always pinched his skin, and yawned.  He’d never been to Socorro, but he knew it had been one of the first colonized human planets outside of the original solar system.  As a man with a past he’d rather forget, Jaret cared little for history.

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