Showdown at Roswell
Now I've seen my share of strange things. After I had rode a dead horse out of a city filled with walking corpses that wanted nothing more than to snack on me, I figured I had seen all there was to see. I couldn't have been more wrong. You see, my name's Clark Reeper, and I'm a bounty hunter. It's my business to deal with strange things, and one of the strangest had just happened in the little town of Roswell. The town had been founded just eight years ago in 1871, a little settlement surrounded by desert that no one would think twice about. But lately, some paranormal events had made Roswell the center of the nation's attention.
First of all, a couple of farmers began losing their cows. One of the farmers said he spotted a big metal disc flying in the sky, that grabbed his cow in a kind of green light, and flew away with it. Most of the normal people in the Roswell figured he had been hitting the bottle a bit too much and ignored him.
But then, just last month, one of those flying things, supposedly one as big as a mountain, crashed into the desert outside of Roswell. The townsfolk sent out a few men to look at it, and they didn't come back. It didn't take long for the army to get wind of what was going on and evacuate the whole town. Now it was just a ghost town, with a giant flying metal disc and what ever was flying it lying smashed somewhere on its outskirts. I had a good feeling that my services would soon be needed, so there I was, sitting on a train headed for Santa Fe, with my Colt peacemakers in my holsters and Good Lord knows how many other guns tucked away in my baggage.
I was right on the money about that. Soon as I got off the train in Santa Fe, I found a letter delivered to me by a Union Telegram boy. It was asking me to meet a client in the fanciest hotel in Santa Fe in two hours. I decided I would take it. I gotta take any job I can get these day, I sure do need the money.
You see, when I was fighting those living dead way up in Kansas, I found myself looking after a curly-haired little boy by the name of Charles Green. Poor little fellow's father had been gobbled up by those dead folk, and I had decided that since I was the only person he had in the whole world, I oughta look after him.
When I got the telegram, he was sitting on a bench in the train station next to my luggage, his small feet waving in the air. He was small for his age, had curly brown hair, freckles and was dressed in a little suit and peaked cap. With my weathered face, crumbling Stetson and dusty leather jacket, we could have come from different worlds, just like what some people were saying about the flying disc that had crashed in Roswell.
"Well, will you look at this?" I said, sitting down next to Charles and showing him the papers. Charles was working on a composition book I had bought off an ex-school teacher who had turned to mining up in Deadwood, on account of I figured a boy should learn his reading and his ciphering. Charles had taken up the book without complaint.
"What are those?" Charles asked, closing the composition book.
"I got this here letter asking for my help, and would you believe who sent it?"
"Who?" the boy asked curiously.
"P.T. Barnum," I said, not quite believing that the great Eastern Showman had dragged himself all the way out here, or that he was asking for my help, "of Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus."
Charles perked up. "Wow. My father always talked about taking me to see one of his shows, but…" He drifted off and fell silent. Poor kid.
I put a hand on his shoulder. "Well, now we're gonna see the man himself. Come on, let's head to this fancy hotel he was talking about." I checked our luggage in a place in the train station and followed the direction of the letter. It didn't say what he wanted me for, but I could figure it out easily enough.
The hotel was near the train station, so Charles and me didn't have to walk that far. I kept my coat open so passersby could see the shiny colts in my holsters. Santa Fe is a tough town, and I didn't want no two-bit thug to try and rob me, or put Charles at any risk.
When we reached the hotel, I was surprised to see a large number of men I recognized standing around in the lobby. There was Werner von Humboldt wearing a blue uniform and a pickelhaube. He was the Prussian sharpshooter who had come out to America looking for work and had found it in killing. There was Trapper Jack, dressed in a fringed deerskin jacket, the noted Mountain Man and killer of the famed Beast of Bray Road. There was Hugo Montez, the Mexican gunslinger, sporting a torn sombrero and dusty poncho. He was the only man to have braved the numerous booby traps in the fabled Montezuma's Fortress and survived.
I nodded to all of them as I walked in, not having any quarrel with anybody. But as I was heading to some seats in the back of the lobby, I spotted a cluster of people that made me stop dead in my tracks. Charles saw my surprise and stopped too. He pointed at the strange group of individuals, one of them as small a desert mouse, another as big as a building from back east.
"Who are they?" he asked. "Friends of yours."
"Nope," I said, anger sneaking into my voice. I went for my guns, and when the group of strange-looking folk saw me, they went for their guns too. For this was the notorious Sideshow Gang, former Circus Freaks, and now terror of the West. I had been paid considerable sums of money to kill them, and we had a running feud that made the Hatfields and the McCoys look like peaceful neighbors.
We stood there looking at each other, each one as still as statues. I spoke first. "Howdy Sideshows," I said, "Still got the same number of freaks?"
"You better believe it, buster," a squeaky voice about an inch above the floor shouted. It belonged to Little Napoleon, a midget dressed in a dark suit and a stovepipe hat three times as big as he was.
Standing behind him was the Sideshow Gang's strongman, former Strong Man Pantagruel Johnson. The massive giant was covered in muscles and had twirled mustachios. He was making a long-barreled revolver look small in his huge hands, while Little Napoleon made his derringer look huge. Behind them were the Jacob Haff and Nick Haff, a pair of Siamese Twins known as the Haff and Haff Bros. Each one of them had a sawed-off shotgun aimed at me. Beardita, an overweight bearded lady in a tight dress armed with a Springfield stood next to them, and sitting on the floor next to her was Armless Hans, who's lack of arms didn't prevent him from aiming a colt at me with his feet. The final member of the gang, and the ringmaster of their little circus was Mr. Adagio, a lithe gent all dressed in a crimson tuxedo with a curled black mustache.
"I can't help but notice," Adagio said as he leveled a revolver at me, "that we have you outgunned."
"That depends on what you mean by outgunned," I said, keeping my hands steady on the triggers of my pistols. "I can still blast two of you before your bullets bring me down. You all wonder which two it's going to be?"
"That may be so," Mr. Adagio spat back, "but your midget assistant will also go down in the gunfire." I looked to Charles. He looked very small and thin, like I could pick him up and put him in my pocket if I wanted too. I knew we couldn't both get through a gunfight alive. I holstered my colts.
"I don't want no trouble," I said. "Just let me hear P.T. Barnum's proposition and I'll be on my way."
"Don't want trouble, eh?" Little Napoleon said, stepping forward. The little guy was easily the most aggressive of the whole Sideshow Gang. "Well, listen here bub, we are looking for trouble! You're gonna get it, and so is that stinking midget you have licking your boot heels!"
"I'm not a midget," Charles said. "I'm only nine. I'll be ten in a few months."
"Oh, really," Little Napoleon snarled.
Then, the devilish dwarf's insults were interrupted when P.T. Barnum marched into the lobby. The Master Showman was dressed in a striking black cape and tuxedo with a black top hat set jauntily on his head. He was clean-shaven and had straight black hair and a red face. Barnum was followed by a small group of assistants, who seemed to fawn over him.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Barnum shouted out in a booming voice, "Children of all ages! You are about to witness the greatest-" One of his assistants leaned over and whispered into his ear, and Barnum suddenly stopped shouting like he was opening one of his shows. "Oh, excuse, me I always forget when I'm not supposed to be performing. Light me a cigar will you?" he ordered his assistant as he plopped unceremoniously down in a nearby chair.
After the cigar had been lit and placed in Barnum's mouth, the circus-owner turned to the collection of bounty hunters and ruffians he had assembled in the hotel lobby. "Ladies and gentleman, I'm sure you all know what happened in the town of Roswell recently, and have heard rumors about what exactly fell out of the sky. Some of my advisors have told me that the metal disc contains the body, or bodies, of creatures from another world."
We all gasped. P.T. Barnum smiled at his audience and continued. "That's right-Martians! They're here, they're real, and I want one. I will pay four thousand United Sates Dollars for a dead one, and six thousand for each living specimen. The Martian will be put on display at my circus, and every American who coughs up a nickel can gaze at its alien strangeness!"
We all stared at him. That was the kind of money you could live off of for the rest of your life. I wasn't getting any younger and putting down my colts for good and spending the rest of my life in a comfortable cabin by the sea was starting to sound mighty good to me.
"Now, whoever brings the Martian back first gets the money," Barnum said. "Let the race begin!"
Well, we all bolted after we heard that. Time was ticking, and I knew that every second I wasn't looking for that Martian was counting against me, especially with folks like Hugo Montez and Trapper Jack on the trail. As for the Sideshow Gang, they didn't give Charles or me a second look as they ran out of the hotel.
Not having a horse or very many supplies, I hightailed it to the local stables to procure myself some. Charles tagged along, and as I was checking the teeth of horses to find the best one, I noticed he looked kind of forlorn.
"What's eating you, son?" I asked. "Don't you want to find that Martian P.T. Barnum was talking about?"
"I guess so," Charles said, looking at the floor. "It just seems kind of cruel to capture the Martian and make him be in a circus. I mean, people will just stare at him all day, and he won't get to go home to Mars…" Charles trailed off. "It just seems mean."
"Ah Hell," I said comfortingly, "Martians ain't got no feelings. They're probably just like big rocks, or big brains, or something."
"Really?" a strangely cool, almost metallic, voice came from my side. I spun around and saw a fellow all dressed up like an Undertaker. Black top hat, black suit, black tie, smoked glasses resting on his thin nose, and black gloves. "Are you an expert on the creatures that fell from the sky then?"
"No, sir," I said, a bit taken aback by this mysterious fellow. "Just got myself an assignment from PT Barnum to capture one of them is all. I reckon I can do it."
"Are you potent with those pistols?" the Undertaker asked. His appearance seemed kind of unearthly, and I noticed he was standing next to a horse that was as black as his clothes. "I see six-guns on everyone in this day and age. Some people know how to use them. Most have no idea."
"I'm a good shot," I said. "Wouldn't last long in my line of work if I weren't. Why you asking so many question anyway? Is P.T. Barnum paying you money to go capture the Martians too?"
"First of all, they might not be from Mars," the man in black said calmly. "Secondly, I serve a far higher authority than any trumped-up ringmaster, the United States Federal Government to be exact. And if you, or any other of showman's servants get in my way, I'll be glad to execute you for treason."
"I didn't mean no harm," I started to say, but the Undertaker turned around and led his horse out of stable without giving me a second look. I turned to Charles and shrugged. "Must be a crazy fellow or something."
After I had purchased the horse, I went to the general store and got some bedrolls, enough food to last us for five days, enough water for ten, a couple more rounds of ammunition, and a bunch of bear traps. I figured that no matter how many arms or legs the Martians had, one of them would get stuck in the bear trap.
With all of that packed up in my horse's bulging saddlebags, and little Charles seated on the back of the horse with his arms around my waist, we set out.
For the first day, we didn't see nothing but the rising sun, the empty stretch of desert and the occasional cactus. New Mexico is a pretty barren part of the country, and sometimes there weren't even a light covering of grass taking up the space between the sky and the ground. I drunk a lot of water, and I urged Charles to drink even more. Being so full of liquid that you sloshed whenever the horse bucked wasn't no fun, but getting dehydrated out in the deep desert was even worse.
It wasn't until late in the evening, when everything got all dark and a moon that looked three sizes too big hovered in the sky, that we saw a sign of life. Way out on a rocky outcropping facing the sky was a little fire, but I couldn't see a soul around it.
Kind of confused, I urged the horse towards the fire. Charles had fallen asleep in the saddle, and his regular breathing was kind of comforting in the dark night. As I got closer to the fire, I heard someone shouting, begging for help in what sounded like Spanish. I spurred my horse to a light trot and cupped my hand to my ear.
"Ayuda! Ayuda!" someone, it sounded like Hugo Montez, cried. I didn't speak much Espanol, but I had spent enough time south of the border to know that meant 'help.' I turned my horse into a gallop until I reached the outcropping.
Sure enough, Hugo Montez was hogtied and lying on the ground next to the crackling fire. Looked like there had been a real scrape around his campsite too, with a collapsed tent, a couple of spent shells lying on the ground, and a long-bladed Mexican machete jabbed into the dirt.
"Hugo?" I said, stopping the horse next to me. "Que Pasa?"
When he saw me, he gulped and looked very guilt. "Oh, Clark Reeper, Lo Siento. Los ejemplares anormales, they snuck up on me, tied me up, made me yell. I am very sorry."
"Ejemplares anormales?" I said, mashing up the Spanish words with my bad accent.
"In English," the nasally voice of Little Napoleon said from behind me, "freaks!" I turned around and saw the entire Sideshow Gang aiming their weapons at me. They had hidden behind the outcropping and used poor Hugo as bait. Now they had trapped me.
"Well, well, well," Mr. Adagio said in a soothing voice as he walked next to me. "If it isn't Clark Reeper, with his pistols so very far away from his hands."
"That can change real fast," I said, but didn't make no move. Charles was still sleeping, and I didn't want him to get hurt.
"Perhaps," Mr. Adagio said. He nodded to the Sideshow's strongman. "Pantagruel, kindly disarm Mr. Reeper." The muscled brute stepped forward, twirled his moustache and lifted me off of my horse with one hand.
The Haff and Haff Bros stepped forward, relieving me of my pistols with each hand. "I'll take that," they said in unison. I was getting a little bit upset, not for myself of course, I had been in several worse scrapes than this, but for Charles still sleeping in the saddle.
"You all can beat up as much as you want," I told Mr. Adagio, "but I'm gonna have to ask you not to hurt the boy. He didn't do no one no harm."
Mr. Adagio merely smiled. "Quite the contrary," he said, leaping next to me with a practiced somersault. "Doing harm to him will do harm to you." He pulled a thin stiletto knife out of his jacket, and I felt my heart stop beating as he approached Charles. I had saved him from flesh-eating walking corpses, and I didn't want to see him done in with a letter opener.
Charles awoke as Mr. Adagio leered over. The aggressive acrobat seemed a bit surprised, but wasted no time in pulling Charles off of the horse and putting the blade to his throat.
"Mr. Reeper?" Charles asked, his voice high and nervous. "What's going on?"
"If you touch a hair on that boy's head I swear by the Good Lord I will kill you in ways that make the most murderous Commanches look like saints," I snarled at Mr. Adagio as my throat went cold. I took a step forward. Little Napoleon ran over to block me, but I kicked the midget backwards and stepped over him. To my horror, I realized I wasn't gonna be fast enough to save Charles. The grinning Mr. Adagio was already bringing down the knife.
Suddenly a shot rang out, and the stiletto was shattered by a single bullet. Mr. Adagio violently shoved Charles to the ground and gracefully flipped backwards. For a single second, everything was silent except for the chirping crickets and Charles's nervous teeth chattered. I took a step towards Charles.
"Nobody move or I shoot!" a bass voice called out from a nearby cactus. But it weren't no cactus. It was Trapper Jack, wearing a strange green spiky outfit that disguised him real good. He was armed with the biggest muzzle-loading rifle I had ever seen. It was as big as a cannon and had a muzzle that looked like an endless black tunnel.
"Trapper Jack!" I exclaimed, "You, uh, you surprised me."
"That's what I do," the mountain man said gruffly, stepping forward and shaking off his costume. "Now, lets all drop our guns and lie down like good boys and girls. I'll tie you up like the Mexican and get the Martian for myself."
"What about the Prussian?" Beardita asked in a voice a little deeper than Trapper Jack's. "He still hasn't shown up."
"Let the Kraut come," Trapper Jack said haughtily. "I can take him!" As if on cue, a shot rang out and blasted the Trapper's hand-cannon from his hands. Werner Von Humboldt rode in on a large Clydesdale, a scoped rifle held in his hands.
"Foolish American," he said with his strong German accent, "you cannot outwit the favorite son of Prussia! Are you willing to test your weak American reflexes against the height of Teutonic breeding?"
Before anybody could answer, there was a great whooshing noise, and something, very large, very silver, and very fast zoomed over our heads so it fluttered the tent and blew out the campfire.
I'm still not sure what exactly happened after that. All sorts of guns seemed to go off, Pantagruel picked up a rock and threw it at Trapper Jack, who smashed him on the head with his rifle, and then Humboldt was thrown from his horse, which I think was tramping Little Napoleon, and Hugo Montez managed to free himself and jumped into the fray with his machete. I punched and kicked, giving a good account of myself, all while waiting for my eyes to adjust and see if I could find Charles, who was still on the ground somewhere. I managed to punch out the Haff and Haff brothers and retrieve my colts, and then I spotted Charles.
He had crawled to the very edge of the outcropping, and was covering his ears with sheer terror. I noticed Armless Hans tiptoeing towards Charles on one foot, a bowie knife clutched in the other. My heart stopped beating again.
Then the whooshing silver disk came back, but this time, it hovered above the outcropping and was still. Everyone seemed to stop fighting and stare at it. The first thing I noticed about it was how reflective it was. Looking into it was like staring at a circular mirror. It was about the size of a large carriage, and had a small bulge on the top that seemed to be made of a darkened glass.
"What in the Good Lord's name-" I started to say, but then things got even stranger. The hovering disc got a bit lower, and the bottom part of it opened up. A strange green light flared out, focusing on Charles. He was completely bathed in it, and he stood up and opened his eyes.
"Mr. Reeper?" he asked, sounding terrified, "what's happening?"
"I don't rightly know, son," I said. "But I aim to find out. Just stay still and don't go anywhere."
"But I can't help it!" Charles said and he was right. Before my eyes, the boy seemed to lift into the air. He headed for the opening in the flying disc. I ran over and jumped, grabbing onto his legs, but the light was too strong, pulling me about a foot into the air before my grip went out and I fell down. All I could do was watch as Charles disappeared into the middle of the flying disc.
The disc started to move, but I figured I could catch it. I ran through the still battling group of circus freaks and gunmen, leapt onto my horse. Then, I gave it both spurs and galloped after the flying disc. I had been in chases before, but this one was probably the most one-sided. The disc cut effortlessly through the air, and it was all my poor horse could do to keep up with it.
Then the disc started getting lower and lower, coming closer and closer to the ground. I spurred the horse on, hoping to get close enough to stop it somehow. There was nothing ahead of us but flat ground, so I figured I could stop checking where I was going and start shooting.
I stood up in the saddle and drew out both my pistols, aimed them at the flying disc, and fired. I might as well have not bothered. The bullets just pinged off of the reflective sides of the flying disc without leaving the hint of a mark.
"Why you don't you just stop flying and fight me!" I shouted in anger to the flying disc. It flew a little bit ahead of me, stopped, and turned around. I began to wish I hadn't yelled at it.
"Son of a gun," I muttered as the flying disc zoomed straight towards me, it's mirrored sides looking hard as diamonds. "Son of a gun!" I stood up on the horse and without thinking, jumped. I landed right on top of the flying disc.
The disc went off faster than a bullet from a gun. I hung on to the sides, but could feel myself slowly slipping off, ripped apart by the crushing wind caused by the speedy saucer. I always carry a bowie knife in my boot and I pulled that out and slammed it into the hovering disc. That knife might have cut through bone with ease, but it became as flimsy as uncooked bacon soon as it touched the surface of the hovering disc.
After that, I don't remember too much. I guess the wind got to me, because I was sliding backwards faster and faster, until the hovering disc seemed to have passed me up completely and I fell backwards. I hit the ground screaming like hell, and after I didn't see much more for a while.
When I woke up, I found myself looking into the face of a nightmare. A fellow with pale pasty skin dressed in all black with a pair of smoked glasses over his eyes was leering at me. It took me a while to realize it was the Undertaker from the stables, or someone dressed just like him.
"I see you're awake," the Undertaker said.
I tried to sit up, and found that I could, even though it seemed some miners were dynamite-blasting in my head.
"You know," the Undertaker said, "you are the only gun-toting rogue to make it this far towards Roswell. I feel must congratulate you."
"Where the hell is my kid?" I said. We were in some kind of tent made of a black material that made it look like it was still dark.
The Undertaker shook his head sadly. "You seem so promising, and yet, you seem to have to same feelings as every other sap and sucker out here. You are going to make history today, Clark Reeper, and all you can think about is your pathetic offspring that is not even your own."
"Now see here," I said, coming to my feet. Despite my aching body, I found myself getting angry. "Charles is a good boy, and I'm the one looking for out him. I don't want any stinking Martians taking him away to Mars or wherever they came from."
"Then perhaps you shouldn't have made this journey," the Undertaker shot back, still keeping his tone of low malevolence. "Come outside, Clark Reeper, and see what glorious events will soon transpire."
I followed him out of the tent and into the blazing New Mexico sun. I gasped at what I saw. The Undertakers, there was a hell of a lot of them, had set up camp, and they hadn't wasted any time doing it. Rows of black tents stood in tent, and a large number of black carriages pulled by black horses stood at the ready. But the strangest part was that a whole mess of black hot air balloons with black baskets hanging from them filled up the sky.
"Quite impressive, isn't it, Clark Reeper?" the Undertaker at my side said. A number of other Undertakers walked over, dressed and looking exactly the same.
"How do you know my name?" I whispered.
"We've read your file, Clark. Reeper. We know all about you."
I couldn't help gulping. My hands went to my Peacemakers, and I was pleased to see they were still there, but then I realized that if the Undertakers had let me keep my weapons, they must not be afraid of them.
"What government do you black-covered folk work for?" I asked.
"The United States. The Kaiser. The Tsar. The Mikado of Japan. Or perhaps our own. After today, we shall decide what government serves us."
I couldn't help gulping and feeling a little weak in the knees. My whole body still felt like jellied pig's feet from the fall, and just as I really began to feel sick, a familiar whooshing sound filled the air.
"They are coming!" the Undertaker suddenly shouted. "Clark Reeper, help us destroy them, and we may let you and your offspring survive the day! We have made sorties against them, and now they try to test us!"
The Undertaker was right. A four of those flying silver discs was headed straight for the camp, and a whole bunch of strange looking creatures were flying next to them. They had big heads, small bodies, big black eyes that didn't look like anything found on earth. They were all dressed in silver suits that glimmered like the hovering discs, had on backpacks with tiny rockets at the bottom that kept in the air, and they all carried strange looking pistols with pie-plates stuck on the end.
"Martians!" I shouted. "Honest to God Martians!"
"To your guns Clark Reeper!" the Undertaker ordered me. "The enemy draws nearer."
"What about you guys?" I said, dropping to my knee and drawing out my peacemakers with a spin. "You got any firearms?"
The man in black laughed without humor. "You have no idea." He reached into his coat and drew out an honest-to-god gatling gun, only small enough to fit his hands, and began working on the crank while holding on to the trigger. All of the other Undertakers drew out either handheld gatlings, or long-barreled silver pepperbox pistols that seemed to fire explosive bullets. The flying discs got closer and the battle was on.
Now I'm not stranger to war, having fought on both sides of the Civil War, and being a veteran of countless back alley shootouts, but this was like nothing I had never seen. The flying discs shot out huge blasts of red light that burned my eyes just looking at them. The red beams set fire to the black tents, and when it passed over an Undertaker, it fried him up just like a magnifying glass does to a bug. The little Martians shot smaller red lights out of their pie-plate guns, and they burned holes straight through some of the unlucky Undertakers.
But the men in the black cloths fought back hard. The tops of the carriages opened up and a swarm of rockets flew out of them, crashing into the flying discs. The black hot-air balloons blazed away with miniature cannons and rockets too, and one by one, the flying discs became blackened and burnt. One of them exploded in the sky and was nothing more than dust, and another one sunk lower and lower until it stopped moving and only smoldered.
I blazed away at the flying Martians, and but my bullets all seemed to fall short. The Undertaker next to me worked the crank of his hand-held gatling gun fast as lightning and tore the oncoming Martians apart, and the strange pepperbox pistols seemed to blow flying Martians into tiny pieces. One of the hovering creatures came straight for me, but I brought up both my peacemakers and shot him twice in his bulbous head. It let out a screech, bled blue blood, and collapsed to the ground.
I reckon that Samuel Colt made Men and Martians equal.
After the battle was over and all the flying discs lay burning on the ground, I walked over to them to see if I could find any trace of Charles Green. The Undertakers were stripping apart the crashed silver discs like vultures eat up a corpse, and there weren't nothing in the first two I looked at.
But then, I heard a high-pitched voice piping out my name, and I felt my heart beating back to normal. Charles Green had crawled out of the smoking wreckage and didn't look no worse for wear, if a bit scared. He ran towards me across the dusty desert and we embraced.
"Mr. Reeper," he said, after he had calmed down a bit, "the Martians, why were you shooting them?"
"I don't rightly know. The Undertaker, the men in the black suits, they were shooting at them."
"But the Martians are nice," Charles said, and I could hear the conviction in his voice. "They saved me from that guy with the feet. And they talked to me, or well, thought to me on the flying ship, and they're not even from Mars! And-"
"Slow down, son," I said. "What exactly happened on that flying ship?"
"Well, it was very bright, and there was a bunch of those bigheaded people in there." By now a small group of Undertakers had silently surrounded us. Charles didn't seem to notice. "They thought to me, talking without moving their lips. I could hear their voices in my mind."
"What did they say?" I asked curiously.
"They told me that they came from a planet far away, not even in the same universe as earth! They are on a research mission to find out what kind of life was living here. They never wanted to hurt anybody, but then their mother ship, that's the big one, crashed outside of Roswell, and they had to wait to repair it. Some people from Roswell came, and tried to attack them, so they blew them up."
"They don't seem to have much qualms about blowing up people," I said. "You sure they're nice?"
"Well, not nice. They think humans are like animals. Lower life form is how they referred to me. But they want to research us, not to hurt us! Then they found out that these men in the black clothes were trying to capture them, so they flew out to talk with them, and I went along. And you guys shot at us!"
One of the Undertakers, looking identical to all of his brothers, stepped forward and put a hand on each of our shoulders. "We've just received a communication from the mother ship. They want to meet with us, to discuss things. They are sending an emissary and will meet us in the abandoned town of Roswell."
"Well, that don't sound too bad," I said. "You can apologize to them, they can apologize to us, they can repair their ship, and we can all go home happy." The Undertaker didn't seem to share my enthusiasm.
"That's not the way it's going to be, Clark Reeper." His grip on my shoulder seemed to tighten. "They have requested you as our emissary, because your child told them good things about you. They will trust you, and that is when we will strike."
"How do you figure?" I said, not liking at all where this was headed.
"You will shoot the alien emissary, and we will be in the buildings of the abandoned town, ready to ambush them. The aliens will be overwhelmed and destroyed. Then we will go and capture their main ship. All the technology will be ours."
"Don't do it!" Charles cried, but then the Undertaker tightened his grip and made Charles cry out in pain.
"Son, I don't reckon I have much of a choice." I stood up, straightened up as best I could, and with my body still aching, I went out to meet the Martians.
Roswell had been abandoned long enough for it to turn into a pretty good representation of a ghost town. It was a small town, one main street and only a few two-story buildings. Some of the glass had shattered in the windows, but other than that, there was no sign of disturbance. Some of the rocking chairs on the houses of the porches even rocked eerily in the light wind that blew through the town.
The Undertakers scurried into the buildings, doing their best to hide themselves. Though they told me they would pop out and save me before the alien emissaries fried me up like a Kentucky Chicken, I had a feeling that the only way for me to survive this Showdown in Roswell was for me to keep a firm grip on the peacemakers and look to no one but myself.
Poor Charles was rudely grabbed by an Undertaker and taken to the roof of Roswell's General Store, where I could see the outline of a man in black clothes behind him. The meaning was clear: if I messed up, Charles would pay.
The main street of Roswell was completely empty, except for me on one end, and a group of those short, bigheaded aliens on the other. Slowly, we approached each other. One of the aliens, that's what the Undertakers called them, walked in front of his friends, and I figured him for the leader. He was a bit taller than all the other big heads, and he had two pie-plate guns in a slim medal belt around his waist. We faced each other.
The wind blew again and a thin stream of dust floated into the air. My hands stood inches above my colts, my legs spread out, my eyes narrowed. The alien rested one hand on the top of one of his pie-plate pistols. His giant black eyes seemed to narrow. It was clear what was going to happen next.
Then I turned my head and spotted Charles standing up on the top of the general store. He had told me that the aliens were just explorers whose ship had crashed. They didn't mean anyone no harm, not unlike the black-clad men that had attacked them. If I killed those aliens, Charles would be heartbroken, but if I didn't, then the Undertakers would break more than his heart. There was nothing for me to do but shoot the big-headed fellow in front of me and hope for the best.
Unless… I looked up at the Undertaker standing behind Charles again and narrowed my eyes. It was a crazy shot, and impossible angle, and even I made the shot, I would have to survive the Undertaker's volley. But I was going to do it.
Wait, something said, but it wasn't talking. It was thinking. The big-headed alien was thinking to me, just like Charles said. If you move against us, you will be terminated. You are fascinating specimen, but we have already lost too many researchers on this world.
"I ain't got no quarrel with you," I said, every aching muscle in body prepping for what I was about to do. "Just follow my lead."
I leapt backwards, spinning my body around in air as my hands went for my Peacemakers. The Undertaker behind Charles made an 'O' with his mouth before I blasted him straight in the forehead. The man in the black clothes wavered, and then his smoked glasses fell off and I looked at his eyes. They were segmented and red and certainly not human.
Then, I had about half a second to leap for cover before handheld gatling gun fire and explosive pepperbox rounds filled the air. I ducked behind a bunch of barrels, blasting at the Undertakers who were taking cover behind the windows of Roswell's only hotel. I shot one of them and he shattered the window as he fell. Then I dodged across the street and headed for the general store where the bastards in black had taken Charles.
The aliens were holding their own too, but instead of taking cover, they stood in the street and simply fired away with their pie-plate guns. Loads of bullets were fired at them, but some sort of shimmering shield seemed to appear and block them. I found myself glad that I hadn't tried to shoot it out wit the bigheaded creatures.
The Undertakers were waiting for me when I kicked down the door the general store. A pepperbox round crashed into my shoulder and nearly knocked me over with it small explosion, but I gritted my teeth and took it, then fanned out my revolver and blasted all of the Undertakers in there. Before their bodies had even hit the ground I was running to the roof.
When I got there, I saw Charles cowering on the ground, scared as hell and covered with some of the Undertaker's blood, but alive and unhurt. I kneeled down next to him.
"I guess you were right about the bigheaded folk," I said, helping Charles to his feet. "Come on, we gotta get the hell out of this town before the aliens or the Undertakers bring in the big guns."
"Oh no," Charles said, pointing behind me, "they already have!" I turned and saw an ominous sight. The Black-Hot air balloons were heading straight towards Roswell, and they seemed even more bristling with cannons and rockets and then when I had seen them fight the flying discs.
"Son of a gun!" I
shouted. "We better get in a storm cellar and hide this one out."
Just then, an Undertaker charged up the stairs at us, but before he could begin cranking his handheld gatling gun, I blasted him in the chest and watched him sink down the stairs. His smoked glasses fell off and I got another look at segmented red eyes.
"Who are those people?" Charles asked. "Are they also from another planet?"
"Could be," I said. "Could be they come from holes in the ground. But we'll never get a chance to find out if we don't get out of here."
As I was heading down the stairs, a strange noise made me stop. A tinkling horn playing the kind of tune a circus band would play. I perked my head and stared off into the distance. The strangest looking vehicle I had ever seen, something like a train car mixed with a tricycle being driven by a man with no arms. The Sideshow Gang had arrived. The cart plowed into Main Street, and I could see not only the entire Sideshow Gang riding in it, but also Trapper Jack, Hugo Montez, and Werner Humboldt. I figured they must have made some kind of deal to get to Roswell as fast as possible.
Suddenly, I idea gripped me. "Hey, freaks!" I shouted as the strange contraption. "You feel like giving me a hand here?"
"You?" Little Napoleon yelled up. "I thought the flying saucer splattered you! Well, I'll be glad to do the splattering myself."
"Hold," Mr. Adagio said, restraining the Sideshow's most angry and diminutive member. "Reeper, who are these people all dressed in black?"
"They want the fortune from capturing the aliens, I mean Martians," I said with a smile. "Looks like they might just get it too."
"Things like that have a way of changing," Mr. Adagio said. He turned to his menagerie as he drew a Remington shotgun out of the cart. "Freaks, let's put on a show!" The Sideshow Gang sprang into action, and the three gunmen they had along for the ride joined in. Pantagruel picked up two unfortunate Undertakers and smashed them together, Limbless Hans kicked one of them into a water trough and drowned him with his feet, and Mr. Adagio spun around like a top, spitting out bullets everywhere.
And the balloons? Well, those black-painted flying machines didn't cause too much trouble. Trapper Jack aimed his giant hunting rifle and fired a ninepins ball that blew one of the hot air balloons in two, Werner Von Humboldt whipped out a shot with his sniper rifle that set off the ammo in one of the other balloons and Hugo Montez climbed to the roof of a building, leapt into the basket of an oncoming balloon, and gutted every Undertaker inside.
With the aliens still blazing away from behind their invisible shields, the Sideshow Gang and their friends shooting everything up, and yours truly blasting the occasional Undertaker with his peacemakers, the battle didn't go on for much longer. The men in black fought a running retreat through the town, and then piled into one of their black carriages. Some of the Sideshow Gang wanted to run after them, but Mr. Adagio said that we had won, and I believed him.
With the dead Undertakers still draining their blood in the street, I figured it would be a good time to leave, but the aliens had other ideas. A nagging feeling in my head made me walk over to where the bigheaded ambassador and his friends were still standing with a small hill of bullets in front of them.
"Howdy," I said, "So, I reckon you all will be heading back home right? We can part as friends, or at least not as enemies, right?"
Perhaps, the bighead thought, and I heard him loud and clear in my mind. But we still have not fulfilled our mission.
"And what would that be?" I asked, not liking the sound of what the alien was thinking.
We need specimens to bring back home. To display for our people, and to do research on. Then we can plan further action or inaction to the planet. We need specimens.
"Uh, what exactly did you have in mind?" I asked. "Like, plants or something?"
Humans. The emissary stared at me with his cold black eyes. Accurate representations of what average dominant creatures on this planet are. They will be cared for quite kindly, and only dissected when they die. We are not cruel researchers.
Now I really didn't like the way this was going. These aliens wanted to take back some souvenirs, and if I wasn't careful, I was liable to be one. I took a step backward and turned to run, but found myself looking straight at the large muscled chest of Pantagruel. He and the rest of the Sideshow Gang were blocking my only exit.
"So," Mr. Adagio said, pointing his Remington at me, "I see you wasted no time in trying to get P.T. Barnum's reward. You're so greedy, Reeper, that's your sin."
"I guess so," I said. "But I always thought it was lack of foresight. I'm thinking of taking this bunch of Martians back to see P.T. Barnum and getting some of the reward money, but I don't think I'm gonna go for the jackpot."
"Jackpot?" Mr. Adagio asked.
I smiled convincingly. "You know, the mother ship. There's supposed to be hundreds of Martians crawling around on that. It's the big one that fell from the sky. An enterprising fellow with a few friends could capture them all, fly it back to P.T. Barnum and get enough reward money to become the next Vanderbilt."
I could see Mr. Adagio's black eyes get bigger. "Step aside, Reeper," he said. "Let me follow the Martians back to their mother ship." He stood up and locked arms with the lead alien. "Lead on, my big-headed friend," he said.
Specimens, the emissary thought, and I could swear that the edges of his tiny mouth turned up in a smile.
"They're all yours," I told him.
Mr. Adagio must have thought I was talking to him, because he frowned and pointed to Little Napoleon. "You, guard him and the other ones until we get back with the mother ship. Don't hesitate to shoot if they make a move on you."
"It would be my pleasure, boss," Little Napoleon squeaked with joy. He stepped forward and gestured at me with his derringer. "Up against the wall, and the same with the mountain man, the greaser, and the German."
Trapper Jack, Hugo Montez, and Werner Humboldt looked like they were going to start a fight, but I shook my head and raised my hands, winking. I guess they figured it wasn't worth fighting, because they went did what Little Napoleon said without complaint.
"I guess Barnum was right," Mr. Adagio said with a laugh as he walked off with the aliens. "There's a sucker born every minute."
"I reckon he was," I said, still raising my hands. P.T. Barnum didn't actually say that, but I was disinclined to put up any argument. Adagio and the Sideshow Gang disappeared into the desert, and after they were just tiny specks on the horizon, the three ruffians and me made our move.
Trapper Jack took a step towards Little Napoleon, causing him to wave his little gun around and shriek. Then Hugo Montez took him from behind. When the dust settled, we had tied up the pipsqueak and were wondering what to do with him.
"I say we cut him into strips and roast him like bacon," Hugo Montez said, cleaning his teeth with his bayonet, or maybe the other way around.
"We could always use him as bait," Trapper Jack suggested.
But it was Charles Green that had the best idea. He was digging around in the Sideshow Gang's trailer, and came out holding Trapper Jack's cactus costume that he had worn when he surprised us in the desert a while back. "Hey, look at this!" he piped. "We can dress him up as a cactus!"
"Or a Martian," Montez, Jack, Humboldt, and I said at the same time. I guess great, or greedy, minds think alike.
In the background there was a great rumble and a huge round mountain of metal flew into the air. It was as big as a city and covered in blinking neon lights like a second sun. I couldn't help taking off my hat and letting out an awed sound as it went up and up until it was just a speck in the sky.
We rode the Sideshow Gang's bicycle contraption back to Santa Fe, and found P.T. Barnum excitedly waiting for us. When we showed him the hogtied form of Little Napoleon trussed up in the green cactus costume, he nearly burst his britches with joy. We all spilt the money and then headed in separate directions. Barnum was a smart man, and I gave him about a week before he found out his 'Martian' weren't nothing more than a midget.
By that time, I would be half way to California, far out reach of Barnum or any agent he hired, and with Hugo Montez headed south to Mexico, Trapper Jack headed north for Canada, and Werner Von Humboldt heading for the east coast, he would have to split his efforts four ways.
As I plopped myself down in the train, my wound from the battle dressed and bandaged, and my aching body nearly back to normal, I wondered aloud if we would ever see those Undertakers again.
"I think so," Charles said. "They seem like they can hold a grudge."
"That they do," I said. I flipped through a few telegrams that were waiting for me when I came to the city. Somebody in Kansas was having vampire problems; some Americans were having a range war with a Rancho in California, and there were rumors of prehistoric creatures in an Arizona Canyon.
All of those happenings would have a job opening for a man of my type, and I would take them up. But for now, I put my head over my face, closed my eyes, and took a well-deserved rest. I had a feeling I would need every second of it.