THE DEVIL’S OUTHOUSE
I) Into the Devil’s Outhouse
Jacob Burden never set out to be a bad man. Fact was, he probably had more of a conscience than any of the local sophisticates making up the posse hot on his trail. And though he stood accused of shooting that fella back at the bank in cold-blood, Jacob could have sworn there’d been a pistol in his hand. But what’s done was done. The fella was dead, Jacob was galloping across the badlands on a stolen horse, and a pack of bloodthirsty sumbitches was close behind. By bullet or by noose, they were fixing to give Jacob his due and truth be told he didn’t half blame them.
The Devil’s Outhouse was understandably the last thing on Jacob’s mind. Oh, he’d overheard some stories about it after he blew into town, mostly old-timers trying to outdo each other by telling tall tales each more extravagant than the one before it. Some said the Outhouse was the devil’s own place on earth, a way-station for lost souls where even the most upright man might find himself were he to take a wrong turn at the wrong place at the wrong time. Others said it had always been here, that the Indians told stories about it long before the first paleface ever set foot in the New World. The local tribes, the Manuwati and the Chinnacooks, had no name for it. They just called it “the place” and claimed it was full of things far older than humanity; terrible, nameless things a thousand times worse than anything you’d find in the white man’s hell.