|Publication date||December, 1994|
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In the Deathlands, the past and the future clash with frightening force
Years of struggle in the lawless remnants of humanity have made Ryan Cawdor a bold and undisputed leader. Yet now, he may have to contend with his former mentor, the enigmatic Trader, as their survival skills are tested on a perilous journey down the mighty Colorado and the Grand Canyon's mile-deep crags.
Ruled by a perverse and malevolent Nature, roamed by lawless remnants of humanity, the Deathlands is what's left of the continental U.S. after a nuclear apocalypse unleashed hell on earth. Here, only a few can survive and still retain hope for the future, and of these, none are more determined than the exiled son of a coastal baron and his closely knit band of warrior survivalists.
The years of struggle in the new reality made Ryan Cawdor a bold and undisputed leader, but now he may have to contend with his former mentor, the enigmatic Trader. Together with J. B. Dix and Abe, they make a perilous journey down the mighty Colorado, and in the Grand Canyon's mile-deep crags, a degenerate barony and mutie death traps test the limits of the group's survival skills.
Imagine your worst nightmare. It's called Deathlands.
During my too long life, I have often lost touch with good, good friends for a number of years and then contrived to meet up with them again. These meetings, which I always anticipated with great eagerness, were universally a great disappointment. It is one of the great truths of the world that you can never go back.
From The Gospel According to Me, by Bobo "Tinky" Finkelstein, Showbiz Press, New York City, 1937
Along the way, they run into a pair of young men. The men delay them long enough for their father, who's behind them, to get off a shot. Ryan, however, senses something is wrong and ducks, so the father's shot misses. They kill the three men and find their farm nearby, where they spend the night. Out in a barn, they find a beautiful horse-drawn hearse, along with a matched set of horses for it, so they load it up and take it with them, then burn the homestead as they leave.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the others are worried - the day for their expected return has come and gone. Doc decides he needs to clear his head, so he asks the others what they think about him going out into the hills for a few days. They eventually agree, so he leaves the next day with Judas the mule. He makes camp that night in a small canyon near a pool of water, ignoring the large tracks nearby. As he settles down to sleep, a monstrous cougar watches him.
Ryan and the others reach Seattle late that afternoon; they leave Abe along with the hearse and head on foot down into the ruins, holing up in an old house for the night. The place was once inhabited by a family who'd been out camping during skydark, but returned home and caught rad poisoning; they all took sleeping pills to end the pain.
They spend the next day wandering further into the ruins, though they see little of interest. They spend the night in a shop in an underground mall. Ryan takes the first watch, and he's lulled to sleep by someone playing a set of pipes. He awakens to find a ghoul looming over him, about to bite him. He shouts, driving the creature back and awakening his friends, and they kill the ghoul and several of its companions before the rest of the pack flees. They immediately leave the mall and head out of the city, but they're being shadowed by a gang of norms. They take cover in another house and remain pinned down there all day.
When darkness falls, the companions decide to break out and make a run for a water tower, hopefully using the element of surprise to get free. They make it one piece, though JB sprains his ankle along the way and Trader gets a shallow knife wound. About this time, Abe has decided they've been gone long enough and hooks up the horses to go find them.
Things are looking grim for the companions when Abe finally arrives to rescue them. They all pile into the hearse and flee, gunshots chasing them. Some ways down the road, three men drop from the trees onto the horses, intending to cut them free. Two are shot down, but the third is too far away to hit, so Ryan crawls forward to get him. He kills the man, but not before one of the lead horses is cut free with Ryan clinging to it. He manages to steer it into a shallow lake and dives off as the horse finally slows down.
Four days later, near Yakima Washington, the hearse hits a pothole that shatters one of the wheels. There happens to be a farm nearby, so they trade the four black horses for provisions, then return on their way.
Doc is still wandering around with Judas, who is in a particularly sadistic mood. The mule tries to take a bite out of Doc's leg, and he's finally had enough. He threatens to beat Judas over the head with the butt of his LeMat when a woman's voice calls out, threatening to shoot him if he does. He finally gets her to reveal herself, and she introduces herself as Sukie Smith shortly before collapsing from shock and blood loss due to a shallow knife wound.
The men are somewhere in the Grand Canyon, in a camp, when a large earthquake hits. The river is slowly rising; Abe and JB make it across, but Ryan and Trader are stuck. When a large willow tree comes floating down the river, they swim out for it and climb aboard, riding several miles through the rapids.
When they finally come to a stop, they have no idea where they are, but there's a trail nearby leading up to the top of the canyon, and a building nearby. Abe and JB, meanwhile, find a bridge and cross back over the river, then climb a trail up to the top, but they several miles behind the others.
Ryan and Trader head for the ville, called Hightower, and meet the sec chief, Arkadin. He welcomes them in, but warns them about Baron Torrance and his daughters Bessie and Cissie. They're taken to meet the baron and his daughters, and the baron invites them to stay for dinner.
At dinner, he announces that the two are going to be married to his daughters. Given little choice in the matter, Ryan and Trader acquiesce. That night, the woman take the men out for a test drive (i.e, have sex with them). Afterward, they find out that there will be a rehearsal at noon the following day, then the real thing the day after.
That same day, a pair of travelers come to the ranch in a wagon. Both are obviously sick, though the cause of their illness isn't apparent. They say they've got a treasure in the back of their wagon, something that will fetch them top jack from a baron, but they just need a room for the night. They're allowed to stay, and their wagon and horses are placed in the spare barn.
Abe and JB come within sight of the ville around the time of the rehearsal and see their friends. They realize something is wrong, so they hang back and wait for an opportunity to spring them. When night falls, they sneak into the compound and find the motor pool, killing the guard. Inside, they hotwire a Volvo truck.
That night, the women come back - they want more sex. Ryan and Trader see this as the perfect chance to create a distraction, so they let the women in. Ryan kills Bessie while Trader struggles with Cissie. When it's obvious Trader can't handle her, Ryan breaks a lantern over the woman's head then sets the oil alight. She runs toward him, intending to take him with her, but he sidesteps and she goes over the balcony into the canyon. Three sec men burst in, and Trader deals with them all single-handedly. Arkadin then shows up and says he'll let them go free, but Trader shoots him in the throat. They run into Baron Torrance on the way out and kill him too. They leave the building and run into JB and Abe; reunited, the foursome flees the ville.
They make it to Phoenix without further incident and spend the night in a relatively intact part of the suburbs. Ryan goes to investigate a predark bookstore, where he's attacked by a pair of stickies. He kills both after a struggle and returns to the camp.
Back at the ranch, Mildred finally determines what's wrong with their visitors - rad sickness. The woman has a few hours, her husband a few days. [Jak] and Dean check the wagon to see what they have and find that it's a leaking nuclear warhead. They decide to leave immediately, leaving the visitors behind. Krysty leaves a note telling the others what happened and where they went.
Ryan, JB, Abe, and Trader are on their way back to the ranch at the same time as Doc and Sukie; both groups catch sight of the farm and notice that something's not right - there's no movement. Doc and Sukie get there first, and Doc goes inside, but everyone is gone. Ryan and the others show up soon after. Ryan asks if there was a note - the farm looks like it was evacuated in good order, which means Krysty would have left one - but Sukie and Doc deny finding one. Doc decides to take Sukie inside to his room to keep her out of the way, but they discover the two visitors.
- This book was authored by Laurence James.
- Audio Cassette was released in February, 2000.