One of the most gleefully scatological and outrageously clever novellas I’ve read in a while is “Long Horn, Big Shaggy,” by Steve Vernon, recently published by Black Death Books. How can you not like a spaghetti western horror story whose subtitle says “A Tale of Wild West Terror and Reanimated Buffalo”? That’s right: it’s a zombie buffalo story. But there’s so much more to this tale than undead livestock. The book opens with a man trying to put down his fallen stolen horse, with shots coming at him from every direction (for something like 1800 words of splatstick gunfire hijynx) and even though he inevitably gets hit in the head, opening it open “like a can of peaches” and splattering “a fistful of brains” across the dust, you know he’ll be back from the dead to seek revenge. Vernon’s novella starts off funny and the gallops like, well, like an undead stallion into sheer hilarity. You encounter ghosts and villains and more in this melting pot cannibal stew of Wild West mythology and campy b-movie gore. It’s a silly premise, sure, and a story like this would be a mess if it weren’t for the sure-fisted delivery of Vernon’s prose, which both keeps the humor churning and the body parts flying along the way. The tale also gets more and more interesting as the plot develops, though you have to be willing to keep your 3D b-movie glasses on while you read. The cowpoke dialect of his characters are so spot on you can smell the chewing tobacco on their breath. One of them — a severed, crawling head that pulls itself along by champing its own jawbone, searching for food — is impossibly hilarious but quite effective, it turns out, for a viewpoint character. I found myself wondering “Well how in tarnation is he going to top THAT?” as I moved from chapter to chapter, and Vernon somehow managed to do it. He’s got the gift. This is a book that could have been a movie — because it’s obviously saturated with cinematic influence — and yet, I think it works as a book and would fail miserably if it were actually turned into cinematic fair. You be the judge.
If you’ve got a taste for over-the-top gross-out stories in the campy mode of the Evil Dead movies, this is definitely a book you should look into. “Long Horn, Big Shaggy” is a quick read, coming in at about 100 pages. For ordering details, visit the publisher’s website. For a photo of the goofy stuffed buffalo Vernon made, visit his.