The Alternate History Fiction of Lou Antonelli

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pirates of the Ozarks

"Pirates of the Ozarks" was originally published in Fall 2012 issue of Science Fiction Trails.

To the President of the United States and the Members of Congress - Gentlemen:
As directed, I have prepared this report on the U.S. Naval campaign to quell the sea-faring brigands who had bedeviled our commerce and transport on the Great Inland Sea.  I report with great satisfaction we have been exceedingly successful.  Commerce between the United States and its Western territories, as well the northern Mexico province of Tejas, proceeds unimpaired.
The circumstances of the subsidence of the Lower Mississippi River Valley and the Great Inundation of 1812 are only recalled here for reference to the historical record into which this report is to be appended.
The first violent tremor struck in December 1811.  The initial refugees reported the subsidence began in the district of New Madrid in the Missouri Territory.  There followed a myriad of tremors that culminated in the last violent earthquake on February the 7th, 1812, that completed the subsidence of the great Mississippi River valley as far north along the former western bank at Hannibal in the Missouri Territory. Although devastated, Memphis, Tennessee, remained intact along the former eastern bank.
This calamity resulted in the loss of thousands of souls and the total destruction of the great cities of New Orleans, Natchez, Vicksburg and Saint Louis, as well as all intermediate settlements.
The new sea eventually extended westward over the Great Plains as far north as the Black Hills of the Lakota Indian Territory.  For two decades following the great calamity the sunken region remained a morass of dangerous backwash laden with debris.  As the sea and its coastlines stabilized, transport was re-established in the third and fourth decades of the century.  Memphis and Texarkana in Tejas became the major east and west ports of departure and debarkation, respectively, across the new sea.  These cities provided vital bases of transport for American commerce, along with the ports of Natchez and Vicksburg, which were re-established on the barrier islands that remained at their previous sites.  Although Texarkana is a Mexican city, it has been administered with a loose rein by the central national authority in distant Mexico City.  It has its own “Texian” society dominated by expatriate American settlers who were isolated on the far side of the Inland Sea by the great inundation.
Regular sea transport was in operation in time for the the California Territorial Gold Rush of 1849.  However, these trading routes also led to the unforeseen proliferation of pirates.
The collapse of the interior of the North American continent and the inflow of the Great Inland Sea left the Ozark Highlands of the furthermost Arkansan and Missouri Territories as an archipelago of islands approximately 140 nautical miles from both the Tennessee and Tejas coasts.  The situation of these islets led to their being used as a base for pirates and sea robbers of the basest sort.  These forces were made up of equal parts of settlers who had fled to the highlands during the winter of 1811-12 as well as outlaws and brigands who fled to the frontier.
The islands had become a “Noman’s Land” with an accumulation of the worst bandits, ruffians and cutthroats.  Few took note of these clusters of degraded people until--utilizing the forests which remained on the former mountaintops--they built crude sea craft and set upon the packet routes with their primitive but sturdy roughhewn craft.
What these pirates lacked in speed and maneuverability they made up in ferocity and marksmanship--always the prerogative of the frontiersman.  The few of these “seabillies”, as they termed themselves, who had been captured stated they had been driven by poverty to set sail--and found what seemed to be an abundance of riches on the slow ships that plied the Inland Sea routes.
The decision of President Cass and Secretary of the Navy Graham in the previous decade to expand the Southern Naval Command based in Mobile Bay and to build a new base in Vicksburg—and deploy forces from there to battle the pirates--proved an initial success, but the pirates shifted their operations in closer to the Tejas Coast where there is no effective Mexican naval presence.  The Mexican fleet based in Galvez Island occasionally made desultory forays along their coast, but their officers showed little interest in suppressing brigandage perpetrated by Americans upon their own kinsmen.
The continued intractability of the conflict came to a head with the pirate defeat of the screw frigate SS Stephen Decatur in April 1857, which was only preserved from being captured by being scuttled by Captain John Brown, who as tradition demands went down with his ship.
Upon the initiative of Secretary of the Navy Toucey, President Buchanan formally asked Emperor Santa Anna of Mexico for a conference to discuss the terms under which the United States would be allowed to send a flotilla to the Ozarks to eradicate the pirates.  The conference, held on Galvez Island March 6-8, 1858, resulted in the so-called “Sweeping Accord” which stipulated that American forces would be allowed to sweep the pirates from the sea, on the condition of the construction of a new naval base in Texarkana which would become an entrepot for the envisioned increased trade between Tejas and the United State upon the completion of the campaign.
For my part, I had enlisted in the new squadron based in Vicksburg in 1853 at the age of 18, and in 1857 I had become a personal aide to Flag Officer David Farragut, who was particularly well-bred to deal with the inter-national issue, being a Tennessee native born of a Spanish father.
I accompanied him to the Galvez Island Conference, and he subsequently asked me to represent him during the construction of the Texarkana naval base, which was completed shortly after President Douglas assumed office in March 1861.  I then returned to the United States and assisted Flag Officer Farragut in the process of assembling the 12-vessel expeditionary force in Mobile Bay.  By August 1861 six of the new model ironclad frigates--the Columbia, State of Georgia, Pawnee, Passaic, Kearsage and Missouri [the last of which serving as the flagship]--were joined by a half dozen older traditional gunships, to wit: The Wareham, Abington, New Boston, Piedmont, Cedar Hill and Malakov.  The gunships were dispatched from Vicksburg, while the new ironclad frigates arrived from Hampton Roads.  The ironclad craft all had the latest Dahlgren cannon, while the gunships were fitted with older-fashion marine howitzers ranging from twelve to twenty pounds.
I was honored and humbled to be promoted to Captain of the Flagship Missouri by Flag Officer Farragut.  The Expeditionary Force was gathered and prepared at Mobile Bay naval base, with the complement of sailors and marines drawn in equal part from Mobile and Vicksburg, as well as from the Coast Guard stations in Memphis and Natchez.
After many months of preparation and training, the Inland Sea Naval Expeditionary Force departed Mobile Bay at daybreak on May the 15th, 1862, with Flag Officer Farragut aboard the Missouri as Commander.
Early on the second day, after traveling 125 nautical miles, we traversed the site of the former Mississippi delta.  At approximately noonday we passed the buoy that marks the former site of New Orleans.  As is the custom of all who pass, we reduced speed and observed a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the tremendous catastrophe of 1812.  The Gulf of Mexico was possessed of large swells that day, and amidst the silence some of the crew said they heard the bells of the great city’s sunken cathedrals tolling under the waves.  Whether this is true, or whether the supposed sound of the bells is the result of romantic imagination, I cannot say, but I thought I heard, at the very threshold of audibility, the spectral tolling myself.
After another day’s northward voyage under full steam we arrived at the shoals that mark the former site of Baton Rouge, and Commander Farragut gave orders for us to swing northwestward towards the Tejas coast.  The flotilla weighed anchor at Texarkana harbor on the morning of May the 18th, 1862, after a voyage of approximately 500 nautical miles.
Texarkana was a propitious base for our flotilla.  It is the center of the American community of settlers who had begun to infiltrate northern Mexico before the Great Inundation, and who have been subsequently isolated by the Great Inland Sea.  Although many, such as Alcalde James Bowie, have intermarried into native Spanish families, strong affinities of blood and kinship to their American brethren remain.
The entire city came to the quay to greet our flotilla, with Alcalde Bowie at the fore.  The Alcalde explained that all were anxious to see the pirates quashed and the entire community would give every assistance possible to help us succeed in our endeavors.
The community imparted a magnificent banquet for the expeditionary force that evening, with great conviviality and refreshments.  Following a full day to rest from the voyage and torecover from the festivities, we met with the Alcalde and an aide of Gobernador Houston, who sent his regrets; at nearly 70 years of age the Gobernador was too infirm to make the trip from the provincial capital of Cuidad Santa Anna in the distant heart of the province.
The fact that such leaders such as Bowie and Houston were born in the United States--Bowie in Kentucky, Houston in Virginia--and they retain the most genial regards for the Stars and Stripes was a great aid to our cooperation from local citizens.  For their part, they were immensely relieved the Emperor in Mexico City had discarded his long-standing distrust and accepted the help of the United States in effecting a solution to the pirate matter.
During our fourth day in port, Alcalde Bowie introduced us to “Captain” Dick Dowling, a ruddy-faced son of Hibernia who was reputed to be the Texian the most familiar with the Pirates of the Ozarks.  A local merchant and tavern-keeper, Dowling led the local coast guard that protected the city and its immediate environs from the raiders.  His commercial interests provided him an ongoing source of information on their whereabouts and activities.
Although there were numerous pirates plying the waves of the Inland Sea, the most dangerous was indubitably “Captain Q”, whose base of operations was Wolverton Island.  Captain Q was a living legend among the pirates, having both escaped death many times and bestowed it most freely upon the unsuspecting, Dowling said.  All of the sea-faring fiends allowed some degree of nominal allegiance to The Dread Captain out of abject fear.
Dowling showed us one of the pirate craft that had been captured.  The large open boat could be propelled both by oars or a hand-sewn square sail, and was crude but exceedingly sturdy.  He said they used these craft exclusively; even when coming into possession of larger ships by conquest, they lacked the seamanship skills to helm them properly.  It somewhat resembled the ships used by Norse raiders that had once preyed upon the English.
After a full week of rest, the flotilla departed Texarkana.  Dowling was attached to the flagship as a special lieutenant.  We left the morning of May 26, 1862.
Along the way Dowling limned no sanguine picture of the task before us.  The pirates’ modus operandi was to lay in wait in hidden coves and set upon ships passing the archipelago.  The situation of the islands is such that it requires making a wide detour to avoid approaching them along the route between Tejas and the United States.  The pirates would lay in wait until a passing ship was espied, and swoop upon it.
Captain Q’s home of Wolverton Island was one of hundreds of small islets that dot the lawless sector of the sea.  Dowling said it was nondescript and well hidden.  Captain Q launched his raids into the open sea by “leap flogging” between  islands until he approached the shipping lanes.
The crafty pirate never laid in wait in the same place twice, said Dowling.  The key to victory, he said, would be to track the pirate captain to his hiding place for the current season and strike him unawares.  Destroying Captain Q would be like cutting the head off a serpent, Dowling stated; the rest of our sojourn in the Ozarks would subsequently be a “mopping up” operation.
Dowling had brought along a small skiff that he used as part of his personal trading fleet that plied the coastal route between Texarkana and Galvez Island.  We devised a ploy to use it as a forward decoy, and to hold back the task force as we approached the Ozark Islands.
We sent the skiff ahead as if it were on its way towards Memphis.  We selected a dozen of our most durable seamen to man the craft, and concealed a supply of the newest Winchester repeating rifles as well as a small brass cannon.
The morning of June 1st we heard the report of the cannon, and quickly joined the fight at full steam.  Upon our approach the pirates immediately broke off the engagement, but their craft were no match in speed with our steam-driven ships, and we quickly overcame them.
Despite their superior weapons and the speed with which we had relieved them, half of our men on the skiff were killed.  Their sacrifice brought us a great reward, though, as we took three dozen pirates prisoner.  It was a small tribe, which nominally owed its allegiance to Captain Q but operated independently.  Their leader was a “Captain” Lansdell. 
Commander Farragut absented himself below deck and allowed the Texian Dowling free rein with our “guests”.  Dowling began by summarily shooting three pirates who had remained unscathed from our engagement, and then turned his attention to the pirate captain himself.
The ruffian’s braggadocio discandied completely upon witnessing the brutal treatment of his colleagues, but Dowling was then confronted by a seemingly intractable dilemma.  Although Lansdell knew Captain Q’s forward base for the current season, he was terrified of retribution if he divulged its location.
“Q will surely kill me I tell you!” cried out the pirate.
“He may, if he finds you later,” said Dowling. “But if you do not tell me where he is, I will kill you now!”
Confronted by such logic, Lansdell divulged that Captain Q was ensconced at Branson Island in the northernmost Ozarks, and upon being freed of his fetters drew a map for us.  We then collected up the pirate captain and his remaining cohorts and bound them below decks.
Battle Plan:
Dowling advised that in view of the location of Branson Island, our best approach would be by way of a wide sweeping arc to the west, then bearing down southeasterly.  That bearing put the high plains and Indian Territories behind us, the least common origination for trade.  Commander Farragut, upon reviewing the map of the islands, decided to split his forces, sending the ironclads on the trajectory envisioned by Dowling, while concurrently sending the gun ships easterly towards Memphis.
Although the ironclad frigates were the much heavier craft, their steam engines were much more powerful.  They could traverse the longer distance around the western end of the islands and swing back towards Branson in the same time the gunships would feint towards Memphis and then make straight for the islands.  Our intent, of course, was to effect a pincers movement.
 Our plan was outlined with the goal of insuring the greatest possibility that the pirate leader would in no case elude our flotilla.  At the time we kept secret a “project” we intended to deploy to facilitate communication between the two fleets, in the eventuality that Captain Q was as clever as he was brutal and had somehow secured an agent in our midst.
The morning of June the 3rd, 1862, we divided the flotilla, with Commander Farragut leading the ironclad frigates west from aboard the Missouri while I assumed leadership of the gunships with the Piedmont as my task force flag ship, and steamed east.
I proceeded at a measured pace towards Memphis, and after two days and achieving its latitude, turned directly west.  We never allowed the outermost islands to leave our sight. One of our desires in drawing up our plan was to make the pirates think we were the main force.  Along our route we espied what may have been pirate craft, but none approached what seemed to them a considerable fleet.
The Texian sea robber Lansdell was aboard the Piedmont, and I took it upon myself to interrogate him at my leisure.  He was of good Anglo-Saxon stock, and like so many of the “seabillies” his antecedents had settled on the Louisiana Purchase frontier in the early years of the century.  He had spent his youth on the small Tejas coastal fishing village of Nacogdoches, whose origins went back to the 16th Century and the earliest Spanish missions.  The hamlet was greatly impoverished by the destruction caused by the Great Inundation, and Lansdell and his brothers were driven to sea by the grinding abject poverty of the region.  Weeks away from the provincial capital, the poor people--cut off by fate from their kith and kin in the United States--suffered severely from a lack of commerce and trade.
Lansdell told that his father, looking back on the years when Americans had begun to infiltrate the Mexican frontier, opined that fate would have surely incorporated Tejas effectively as part of the United States, so great was the movement of population.
Lansdell seemed to be possessed of a native cleverness and industry, indicative of his racial origins, and had he been reared in more propitious circumstances it is my opinion he might have made a prosperous merchant or manufacturer.
By June the 7th the ship’s navigator indicated we were only 30 nautical miles east of a point 40 miles due north of Branson Island.  I stationed a mate in the crow’s nest to keep watch for any heliographic communications from The Missouri.  He soon spied the signal, and we received the message that Captain Q’s main body had been sighted.  As Dowling had predicted, he was making with all due haste into the heart of the islands.  Commander Farragut’s communication indicated the course we should engage that would bring us to an intercept with the pirate chief’s small fleet.
At mid-afternoon we heard the cannonade, and as we approached the engagement we saw that the ironclads had caught up with the pirate craft, which were being quickly and brutally subdued.  I joined Commander Farragut aboard the Missouri for the conclusion of the engagement.  The hot air balloon and basket--the “secret project”--lay on the ship’s desk.  Sending the balloon into the stratosphere had enabled the Missouri to signal us from a distance that would have been otherwise impossible.  It was this special evice that Farragut had taken such pains to conceal until needed.
After the pirate fleet had been disabled, Dowling and a contingent of Texarkana citizens fell upon the pirates with a thirst for revenge with a purpose that would have reddened the cheeks of an Apache. Dowling and his men would take no captives.  Our own marines had to step in to prevent a general massacre. While many of the pirates begged for quarter, and were taken prisoner at Farragut’s direction, Captain Q’s “Old Guard” refused to surrender and the Captain and his hearties were last seen alive on a craft which burnt to the waterline. This grime finale was witnessed by the assembled flotilla as dusk descended across the waters, and I could not help but recall my previous observations how these sea robbers’s craft had harkened to the Norsemen of old, as Captain Q’s went up in flames much as a Viking funeral ship of yore.
Almost until the flames were quenched by the sea the infamous Captain and his last men hurled the most profane curses towards us and continued shooting while the our sailors watched impassively.  As the the ship disappeared behind a veil of smoke and steam, Captain Q was heard clearly to declaim “See you in H---! Farragut” followed by one last muffled shot.  It was obvious the vile man had dispatched himself from one sea of flames to another.
There were loud huzzahs from the sailors, marines and Texians aboard all ships, which was stifled as Commander Farragut called out loudly, “Our work has just begun, men!”  Silence swept across the ships.  We all recognized that--to return to another of Dowling’s analogies--although we had cut off the head of the serpent, the crippled length of the creature would continue to wriggle.
The “Mopping Up”:
Farragut offered amnesty to any brigand who agreed to join forces with us to reduce the pirates who remained.  Lansdell and a dozen men from both his and Captain Q’s ships agreed to accept his offer, and subsequently provided invaluable information on the whereabouts of other raiders.  The unrepentant pirates among us were collected aboard the gunship Wareham, which returned with them to the Texarkana naval base.
I subsequently learned that after the Wareham returned to Texarkana with its prisoners it dispatched a communication from Flag Officer Farragut to the Department of the Navy, the nature of which I was not acquainted with, and which would only be disclosed to me upon the flotilla’s return to Texarkana.
Lansdell’s better nature emerged with the demise of Captain Q.  We jointly took time to interview some of Q’s pirates who had survived to more fully understand the nature of that most feared Pirate of the Ozarks.
His full name was William Clark Quantrill.  He was--somewhat to our surprise--an Ohio native who had drifted down the river of the same name while a youth, and being possessed of a direct and forceful nature he quickly rose to the fore of the “seabilly” pirates.  Many of the amended pirates, Lansdell among them, seemed relieved at Quantrill’s demise and professed a desire for closer relations with fellow Americans.  They were unsure whether the Ozarks were truly American Territory, and when I told them it was indeed they seemed quite happy.  I told them that--if it was their desire--perhaps the federal government could be entreated to secure an administration there.  I saw at that time a furtive and knowing look from the Commander.
There were perhaps 300 pirates in a half dozen bands scattered across the islands, and the “clean sweep” took a six full months.  We embarked upon a methodical pursuit, which had a most salubrious effect on the safety of the sea.  Most of the pirates surrendered immediately when confronted by the flotilla.  Accustomed as they were to attacking isolated ships, they were thoroughly cowed by our fleet.
What settlements we found on the islands were spectacularly impoverished.  It was simple to discern the poverty that had driven the forgotten “hillbillys”--their original name for themselves--into the sea.  After seeing one hamlet where only the dogs seemed well fed, Farragut muttered “we must do something for these people so they can live as Christians.”  Many sailors and marines were so moved by what they saw they gave their own rations to the inhabitants.
We steered a course from the archipelago and towards Tejas December the 6th, 1862 and arrived at the Texarkana naval base a week later.  We were greeted with great jubilation, and Dowling was chaired through the city by the townspeople while our regular forces marched to the Alcalde’s mansion with flags flying.
I was rather perplexed to see the Wareham riding low at anchor and surrounded by a half dozen American warships.  As we marched through the streets, I asked the Flag Officer Farragut about them.  He shouted that--upon his request, which was telegraphically delivered to the federal government upon the arrival of the Wareham--President Douglas has signed a decree organizing the Ozarkia Territory.  The Wareham would lead the other ships to the islands with personnel and provisions for the establishment of a capital and territorial administration.
When I inquired who would be leading the organization of the new territory, he declaimed: “I would suggest you make Lansdell your chief executive, Your Excellency.”
Unbeknownst to myself, at Farragut’s recommendation, President Douglas named me the first Ozarkia territorial governor.
At the celebratory banquet that evening, as the claret flowed and cigars smoldered, Farragut confided to me, “There is no one as qualified for the post as you.  You are a Missouri native; had the great calamity not come upon the frontier, Ozarkia would surely have been incorporated into the state of Missouri.  And you have been most closely involved on the expedition just concluded.” 
I conceded his logic was unassailable, and the next morning, at the break of noon, I gathered my wits about me and sent a message via telegraph to the executive mansion in the District of Columbia gratefully accepting the appointment.
It has now been six months since the Wareham returned to the islands.  We established our capital on Wolverton Island--Quantrill’s old headquarters--and I designated a blacksmith who had never been part of the pirate raids, one Clifton Clowers, as the mayor.  The artisan had lived on the same location since before the Great Inundation. 
In honor of the leader of the original expedition, we named the newly established capital Farragut.  The same situation that had worked to the pirates’ advantage is presently working towards the prosperity of the indigenous inhabitants, as the islands become a profitable way station on the Inland Sea routes.
For my part, I am gratified that Flag Officer Farragut and Secretary of the Navy Graham have allowed me to retain my Naval rank as I fulfill my role as territorial governor, as I owe everything to my naval career and would hope that--as Ozarkia is established on a stable and permanent footing--that I might return to the sea that has meant so much in my life.
Who could have foreseen when I was a child, gazing across the blue inland waters from Cardiff Point--the foremost promontory of the former Mississippi left bank that overlooks the strand where Hannibal is situated--that boyish fantasies of adventure could be fulfilled in the most literal manner, and I would live to sail the wide open sea, fight and defeat pirates, and lead a city and territory? 
No Dickens or Cooper could write a story as much like the Arabian Nights.  For my part, while this report is meant as an official record, I flatter myself to think that I have some small innate measure of skill as a storyteller, and in these pages I hope you have not only found an accurate summation report on the expedition that subdued and suppressed the Pirates of the Ozarks, but also an engaging tale that is one chapter of the great unfolding story of the American Republic.
As my chief executive Lansdell said when shown the draft of this document, “It gives one pause to think you might have missed your true calling, Sam!”
But I am in most felicitous circumstances, and greatly doubt that.
Respectfully submitted,
Captain (U.S.N.) Samuel L. Clemens
Governor, Ozarkia Territory
June 1, 1863

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Djinn for General Houston

"A Djinn for General Houston" was originally published in Surprising Stories in 2006
The Kaiser may be crazy, but I tell you, son, Santa Anna was just plain damn mean!
Did I ever meet him?  No, not really. But I was close enough to touch him. Yep, I was there at San Jacinto, and I saw the great Napoleon of the West run out of his tent with his pants around his ankles.
You've heard about the Yellow Rose, haven't you?  Emily Morgan, the pretty girl who kept the Generalissimo in his tent until it was too late, and the battle lost?  Talking about the Kaiser reminds me of a real bad man - that Santa Anna was.
Well, son, how about I tell you the real story?  It ain't what you thought. But 80 years ago, no one would've even begun to hear me out.
But I've seen the bioscopes of this war going on now in Europe. Y'all have boats that sail underwater and machines that fly. You can send Morse code through the air with no wires.
Maybe you'll believe me. Maybe now. It's all true. I was there.


I was born in Philadelphia, and my parents were well educated. My father taught Greek and Latin at a local lyceum, and named me after a Greek poet, Menander.
But I squandered my time and money, gambling and chasing after women when I was supposed to be study in college, and by the time I was 21 I was being chased down Walnut Street and clear out of town by creditors.
I didn't stop until I got to the Texas frontier.
There was a new town just settled, just six miles south of Fort Parker, called Groesbeck. They needed a schoolmaster.
I showed up talking all proper and pulled a few old college textbooks out of my rucksack, and I was hired on the spot - before they even had the roof on the one-room schoolhouse.
When the War of Independence started, I thought General Santa Anna would make short work of the boors and troublemakers who led the revolt.
I was right.
We knew that the Generalissimo had invested the old mission at San Antonio de Bexar. Colonel Travis and his men held out as long as they could. It ended horribly.
Santa Anna took no prisoners. I told you he was a mean bastard. He massacreed them - every last man.  Then he took his Army and marched north to clear out the province.
We called it the Runaway Scrape. Men left without their hats, women without their bonnets. Pots were left to burn on the fire, livestock roaming loose. Everyone fled north as fast as they could walk or ride, hoping to get to Louisiana before Santa Anna slit their throats.
I came to school that morning and found not a child there. I grabbed my coat and gun, and took off towards Fort Parker as fast as my scrawny legs could trot. 
I spent the night at Fort Parker, and by the next day made it to the Mexia Plantation, another six miles north. I figgered there I could take the road east, to Nacogdoches, and then on to the Louisiana border.
The farmstead was deserted, so I slept in a hayloft. The next morning, when I awoke, I heard solders speaking Spanish coming down the road. The barn was close enough to the road that I could hear the Mexicanos chatting as they marched at a leisurely pace.
I remember, one said to the other, "No se preocupe del Alamo e Goliad, Felipe, gente tienen una memoria corta."
I knew a little Spanish myself. I thought, "Very well, Felipe, you should worry about people remembering the Alamo and Goliad."
I realized I would have to hide now and travel at night. I went out the back of the barn and into the nearby hills. 
They were covered with unbroken thickets and I saw no paths. I'm sure no white man had ever been there. I doubt any redskins, either. I was sweating and scared and didn't want to get it like Col. Travis' men, or Col. Fannin and his men at Goliad, so I kept pushing deeper and deeper until I thought neither God nor man could find me.
After it was dark I took my scraper and tinder and made me a little fire in the front of a cave sunk in a cleft of a cliff. I didn't know if there were any rattlers in the back of the cave, so I wrapped some moss and mud around a branch to make a torch and went inside to look.
After a while I realized this was a very, very deep cave.
I must have walked half a league into the rock before I saw a brick wall.
Now, I say brick, because that's what it looked the most like. It was some kind of masonry, I knew that. There was a large plaster seal in the middle of the wall with a sign that looked like a pitchfork, and some scratchin's I couldn't figure out.
Now, I knew a little about the redskins, and this didn't seem like their work. Perhaps it was the work of the bloody Aztecs - though it was a little out of their way.
As I held up the torch I leaned on the wall with my free hand - and the wall gave. I almost fell through the opening, and I dropped the torch, which went out.
I cursed myself in the dark, but in a moment a light appeared in a room past the wall, just like someone just lit a lantern.
As I stuck my head through the large hole that opened, I could see what looked like a storeroom, piled high with metal barrels and crates.
By itself, on a podium, sat what looked like Aladdin's Lamp. And it was glowing like a lightning bug. That was the light I saw.
I clambered through the opening. I could tell the barrels and crates in there were very old and had been there a very long time. Some were trapped underneath stalactites that had dropped down from the ceiling.
I was sure they were all full of treasure - but something made me want to grab the lamp first. So I did.
It had a handle on top and a pointed end like a spout. I just placed my hand on it, when I felt a shock and drew back my hand. The lamp's glow began to flicker and I could see my handprint on the side. Then smoke began to pour out the pointed end.
The smoke swirled around, and then turned solid like clay on a potters wheel and took form. In a few moment he stood before me.
She wasn't a woman - she was Woman. I don't know how else to put it. Perfect in form, the sum of all the pleasing attributes of the women in the world.
Her skin was a warm nut brown. Her eyes ebony and large, the whites bright and shining. Her hair was long, wavy and raven. Her form was perfect, curved like a bull fiddle, with breasts full but strong.
She wore a dark green robe, but her chest was bare. She raised a hand and spoke to me.
The words sounded strangely familiar but I couldn't make them out. I saw she realized I didn't understand. She raised both hands in front of her face, fingers facing inward, and then flung her hands apart.
My mind opened like a cabinet.
I was paralyzed with fear, and I could feel it as if her fingers were inside my head - but she never approached me or made even another gesture. In a moment, the feeling passed. Then she spoke to me in English.
"I am sorry, Menander McCoy, but it was necessary for me to view your mind to see how I might speak with you."
"A mind reader," I thought - a real mind reader.
"Who are you, and what is this place?" 
I tried to sound superior in an attempt hide my fear, but she took no heed.
"This is a trove of the crown prince of Aztlan," she said. "Who hid his wealth in a far corner of his kingdom, when came the Great War with Rama."
"What is Aztlan? I've never heard of the place."
I saw she seemed to be reading something in her mind.
"The name has come down to your people as Atlantis. I see from what you know, the war is lost and done long ago."
I let it sink in a moment.
"Who are you, then? Are you from Atlantis?"
"I am," she said, "but I am not real. I am an image generated by this, 'lamp' I think you would say. We called it a holographic projector."
"You look real to me."
"Aztlan science is - was - advanced enough they could project solid objects just as you now project only light and shadows."
She took a few steps forward and in one smooth move, placed the back of her hand against my cheek.
I fainted.


When I awoke, I was flat on my back in the treasure room. I had no way of knowing how long I had been out. The lamp still sat where I first touched it - glowing bluish white with no heat.
I raised myself up using my gun as a crutch, and went over to the lamp. I had a thought, and grabbed it by the handle.
Nothing happened.
"Only rub the lamp if you want the genie to appear," I thought to myself.
I hung my gun by its strap around my neck and carried the lamp carefully through the opening. I piled the rotted masonry up into a heap that almost rose to the ceiling, and then began my long way back towards the entrance of the cave.
Some minutes later, when I arrived, it was daylight and the ashes were cold, so I knew I had been out all night.
It was still chilly but the April sunlight shone bright. I placed the lamp on a ledge of rock at the entrance of the cave, and rubbed it again.
She appeared.
This time she held her hands clasped in front of her waist in a gesture of subservience.
"Please cover your bust," I said.
Her robes changed to assume a more demure attire.
"I know now what you are, after you touched me," I said. "You're some sort of clockwork concubine. You were a part of this Atlantean prince's mechanical harem."
"The trove you entered is a collection of his play things - nothing more, nothing less," she said.
Play thing, no less. These men were like the Gods of Olympus - to have a play pretty such as her.
How could they make an apparatus that could materialize objects out of thin air - and turn them back to air again? And what kind of 'woman' could make a man swoon at one touch?
I saw a glint of sun on steel from a great distance.
"The soldiers of your enemy are still on the march," she said.
That's right, she had read my mind. She knew about Santa Anna and the Alamo and the Scrape.
I confronted her.
"You're an engine, correct? Just a machine? Do you have a mind of your own?"
"Will you do however I command you?"
"In the absence of my Lord, yes."
"Are there any weapons in the trove?"
"Damn." I spat in the dust.
I looked at her. Thoughts of Delilah and Judith from the Old Testament went through my mind quickly.
If a cold-blooded Yankee such as myself was so excited by her form - how so much more so the notorious rake from south of the Rio Grande?
"We need to get to Buffalo Bayou," I thought. I had heard from fellow travelers on the road that General Houston planned to make a stand there.
Without thought, I said the first thing that sprang to mind.
"Can you find a magic carpet?"
Again, she got a look like she was reading a scroll in her mind's eye.
"I can extract a vimana from another trove hidden nearby. It would fulfill the function you desire."
"Get it, and return to me."
Whatever a 'vimana' is, I thought.
When I turned around, she was gone.
A few minutes later, I heard a sound like a whistle on the tail of a kite, and a flat-bottomed craft that looked like a shallow bowl came over the top of the next ridge.
It wasn't a balloon - it moved against the wind - and she sat in its hollow, squatting Indian-style.
It quickly floated down to the ledge and she indicated that I was to step in and sit down.
"In what direction are we to travel?"
I pulled my compass from my kit and let it settle. I pointed south by southeast.


I knew once we reached the coast we could just follow it north and we'd reach Buffalo Bayou, where the San Jacinto River spread out into swampland before it entered the Gulf. In a few hours I saw it and indicated to her we should follow it inland.
A few minutes later I could plainly see the orderly ranks of the Generalissimo's army on the left bank of a bayou, and on the right bank, the rag tag camp of General Houston and his vols.
Because the vessel flew so quietly, I believe no one ever saw us as we approached. I asked her to alight in a mott half a mile from the Texian's camp, and after we disembarked, I asked her to conceal the craft.
Rather than hide it, she somehow made it disappear. It made little impression on me - in one day the miraculous had become commonplace.
I grabbed the 'projector' by its handle and pointed it at her.
"Now, my precious plaything, I desire you return from whence you came."
Her form quickly turned to light and shadow and swirled back into the nozzle of the lamp.
Back outside the cave, as I had awaited her return with the craft, I had partially emptied my kit. Now I stashed the lamp inside, so none could discern what I carried as I advanced to the camp. I struck out across the scrub for General Houston's camp.
A pair of sentries accosted me, but they could see I was a white man and greeted me genially as they asked my business. I spoke truthfully and said I had come from Groesbeck to offer my service to the General, adding that I would need to speak further and in confidence with him.
They replied the General was busy with plans for the engagement to be expected in a few days, but I could wait by a camp fire with some of the other men.
I spent from noon until half past dark getting caught up with the vols. After all the talk faded of the Alamo and Goliad, the banter turned more frivolous - and I learned what I needed to know.
Just one day earlier, as his Army crossed the river upstream at Morgan's Ferry, the Napoleon of the West spied a comely slave girl - a well-bred high-yellow mulatta named Emily - who was with the party helping to load the plantation's possessions into a wagon.
The general - politely but firmly - demanded her as a spoil of war from Colonel Morgan, who intelligently agreed.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was a notorious rake and feeling the absence of his spouse. This was a man who, as a means to bed a maiden while on a campaign, would have an adjutant pose as a 'priest' and go through a mock wedding ceremony to fool the girl.
Santa Anna had hardly left his Marquee - the presidential tent - since the Army had set up camp at San Jacinto that morning.
After sunset, one of the sentries who had greeted me when I first arrived came to where I squatted with the vols and told me General Houston would see me briefly.
It was a rude canvas affair, stinking of mildew and lit from a whale oil lantern, and the General sat inside with a few men who were obviously his staff. 
Of course, I recognized the him the moment I stepped inside. It was easy to see, with his shock of jet hair and aquiline nose, why his moniker was "The Raven".
I spoke with some urgency, saying I had a matter of intelligence I could only divulge to him, but it would be worth his while. He nodded and the men stepped outside and loosely lashed the entrance as they stood nearby.
Houston seemed unimpressed when the lamp came into view. 
"We have no need for booty," he said sharply. "We need fighting men - and the element of surprise."
I held the lamp by its handle and caressed its side.
"I assure you, General Houston, this is all the surprise you will need."
As she congealed, he made a cry of surprise, but controlled himself - I suppose, to avoid bringing the men back into the tent.
She assumed a posture of subservience - eyes batted, hands folded, one foot square to the other.
"This is the Devil's work," he muttered as he clutched at his saber.
"General, I supposed you would deal with the Devil to save your Republic."
He regained his composure. "This seems to be the veritable lamp of Aladdin from the Arabian Nights, then. This is something we have heard of before - except I would not have thought the djinn was a female."
That was the first time I heard that word, "djinn".
"Yes, general. She is obviously the genie of the lamp such as Aladdin knew."
I told him briefly the circumstances of my discovery. The General now stroked the stubble on his chin. "Does she have a name?"
"Not that I know of," I said, as inspiration seized me. "I would call her Judith"
I saw the general's eyebrows raise as he understood the reference.
"Would that we could get her into Santa Anna's quarters," I said, "I am assured she would bewitch him to no end. I will show you."
I spoke directly to her. "Lay your hand on his cheek as you did mine in the cave."
She did. Although the General's knees buckled, he did not swoon, but in a moment regained his composure and looked at her with some intensity.
I could tell from the look on his face she had caused the same effect on him as she had on me.
"I have been to Colonel Morgan's plantation in the past," he said somewhat heavily, "and seen his servant girl Emily. The djinn here you have conjured, Mr. McCoy, bears somewhat of a resemblance to Emily Morgan."
He leaned forward a bit and peered at her in the lamplight.
"Except for that she is far more comely."
She looked up at him. Her eyes seemed almost to glow. He shuddered.
"She surely is a demon."
I gave a little laugh. "All the better to treat with the Mexican Devil."
The general turned to me. "Come with me, and I will show you where the light of Santa Anna's tent shines."
I gestured to her and she discandied back into the lamp. The general and I walked towards the bayou.
The Mexican camp was directly across the swamp only three-quarters of a mile distant. Houston pointed out a tent with two large lamps, which was ensconced directly in the heart of the camp.
I rubbed the lamp and she appeared. I pointed out our target.
"In that tent, there are two people. There is a young lady named Emily. She is not to be harmed, but you are to see she is gotten to safety. The man inside is named Antonio. You are for him."
She nodded in understanding.
"You are to seduce him and then while he is incapacitated, kill him."
She laid one hand atop the other in a gesture that I instinctively knew meant denial.
"I am forbidden to harm a human. It is the law."
"What law are we talking about?" Houston snarled in my ear.
"A slave law of Atlantis, I would suppose," I said. "Recall, general, I only found the lamp."
A sly look crossed his face and he whispered in my ear. It was a most excellent suggestion.
"As I said, you are for Antonio," I said, clearing my throat. "You are to seduce him and ply him with all the wiles that you know. Do not harm him, but do anything and everything he commands, until I come for you."
She nodded in agreement. "I will retrieve you at some point tomorrow," I said. 
Muttering under my breath, I added, "with luck".
"Now go."
Unlike when she had returned to the lamp, she now disappeared like a candle that had been snuffed.
Some of Houston's men came up as we walked back to camp.
One spoke up. "Do we attack, general, or do we wait for them to attack us?"
The Raven gave me a sidelong glance. "I anticipate we might catch them unawares tomorrow.


It was clear from the reports from our scouts the next morning that our stratagem was successful. We were already cooking a hearty lunch of stew - General Houston allowed me to stay by his camp that night - when we realized Santa Anna had issued no orders for the day, much less left his Marquee.
Houston had his hands in his vest pockets. "As I suspected, your m'latta houri looked enough like the girl Emily that none of his attendants noticed the difference, even if they spied her."
"I would say, general," I remarked in a rather self-satisfied way, "there are standards of feminine pulchritude that have remained catholic through the ages."
It was 2 p.m. and the sun was in the west and at its hottest.
General Houston gave orders for his men to take up positions behind a tree line, and up against a natural rise in the terrain.
Had the Generalissimo given any orders that day, there might have been sentries out to spy us, but the listless Mexican soldiers had been given no commands and displayed no initiative. None saw our advance.
I stood behind a tree by the General as he brought his fine bay,  Saracen, around and mounted. I was on foot, of course.
He looked down at me. 
"Now here's to hoping your genie has done her job well," he said. "The longer it takes for him to rouse himself, the greater will be our advantage."
He raised his saber, and then lowered it as a great shout went up.
Well, you know how it went. The battle lasted 18 minutes, they say. Some of the foemen died where they had lain down for their siesta. The report to General Houston later listed 630 dead for the enemy, while only nine Texians were killed. We also took almost 800 prisoners.
I made for Santa Anna's tent during the melee to retrieve my "Judith" and saw from perhaps 50 feet away as Santa Anna staggered out beneath the canopy, his trousers drooping about his ankles as he tried to run and pull them up at the same time.
I reckon that's when the expression "caught with your pants down" began.
He managed to escape in the dust and commotion, and a minute later I came to his tent.
I entered and saw her supine on some pillows, without a stitch on. I had to shield my eyes with my fingers.
"Return to the lamp."
I tucked the lamp under my arm inside a small gunny sack I had stuffed in my coat pocket, and began to gingerly make my way back to the Texians' camp.
Santa Anna later threw off his splendid uniform and took the clothes of a common foot soldier from a dead man, hoping to blend in with the fleeing stragglers. But they were all taken prisoner.
He tried to blend in but when he was went past a group of other soldiers they recognized him and began to salute.
"El Presidente! Mi Generale!"
The Texians grabbed him and took him roughly to Houston, who was under an oak recuperating. His right ankle had been smashed by a musket ball, and he was also in a foul mood because Saracen had been shot out from under him.
After two hours of fierce negotiation, Santa Anna was spared his life and Texas had its freedom.
Before we all decamped three days later, General Houston gave me a sack with a thousand dollars' worth of silver Mexican pesos.
"We found a dozen times this in their camp. I felt you deserved a small share of the booty, although," he said as he pointed to the sack I carried with the lamp inside, "I suspect that is your greatest reward of all."
"You may rest assured, general, this will help pay for my sojourn in Galveston," I said with a very large smile. "I intend to reward myself."
He grabbed me about the shoulders and leaned close in a very conspiratorial manner. "Do you think anyone will believe our story?"
"None, I dare say. They would say it was the product of strong drink."
"That was what I thought" he said, wagging his head and smiling. 
He stepped back and nodded, laying his finger aside his nose. I smiled and nodded back as I turned and began the trek to the coast.


On my way I heard that Emily Morgan had fled the new republic and returned to New Orleans - because of her shame, so they thought. I knew instead she was probably in shock, and I speculated to myself what means the inhabitant of the lamp had used to spirit away the winsome quadroon.
In Galveston, I used the silver to buy the finest room in the best hotel, and I had a full meal for two sent up that night, along with a bottle of the best champagne the house had, and two tall glasses.
I rubbed the lamp.
Nothing happened.
I rubbed it again, and then more vigorously. Finally, I raised it above my head and shook it violently.
"The damn Mexicaner broke the lamp," I thought.
I was startled to hear a voice emanate from the lamp, and I dropped it. It was neither a man nor woman's, but instead sounded like someone speaking through a pipe organ.
I didn't understand most of what it said, but some of the words - "power", "deplete", "regenerate" - led me to realize the apparatus had run out of fuel.
I spoke to the lamp, but the message only repeated itself a few times, like a music box tune. It finally stopped.
I sat down on the bed I had prepared with so much anticipation, and laughed like a madman.
I drank half the bottle of champagne, and then called the major domo and put some of Santa Anna's silver to practical use, ultimately spending the evening in the manner I had originally intended.


With lamp depleted, I could think of no practical use for it, and it was with some effort I retraced my journey back to the scrub-covered hills overlooking the Mexia place and returned it to the cave from whence it came.
I of course had tried to open some of the crates in the ancient storeroom, but they were impenetrable. I resolved I would return later with heavy tools and gunpowder, when the opportunity best presented itself.
I returned to Groesbeck where my youthful charges awaited me. I was much more comfortable in my position afterwards. I had become more frugal in my personal habits, in contrast to my days in Philadelphia, and I saved much of the silver General Houston had given me.
That nest egg also allowed me to set myself up in such a manner that I became a good prospect as a husband, and I was married in 1838. We quickly settled into domestic bliss.
As a result of my contentment and preoccupation, I delayed trying to return to the cave for over two decades. Then, on a pretext, I left my wife and sons and traveled to the hills above what was then the town of Mexia, with crowbars and chisels and dynamite - and realized as I surveyed the landscape I could not retrace my path.
By the time I returned home, war had broken out and Texas had seceded, but this time, from the United States - to join the Confederacy.
I was already over 50 years old and not much use for service, but I kept watch on the coast for the Confederates.
That's pretty much the story. I stayed on as headmaster at the school until I was 70 years old. My wife and I were married a good 60 years - she died right before the turn of the century. 
My oldest boy still lives in the main house yonder. My other sons scattered to the four winds - one even lives in Italy.
I've sat on the side of the road, by and by, and heard the darkies sing about the "Yellow Rose of Texas" many times over the years.
I never raised a peep. I didn't want to hurt their feelings, and elsewise - who would believe me?
And I see you don't either. And you know, when you're as old as I am, you get past people thinking you're a fool.
I'm 102 now. I have just have enough money to keep me comfortable, and I still have a few of the pesos given to me by General Houston.
But I knew from that eager look on your face you'd listen to me forever to sell your War Bonds. I knew I had you hooked. So say what, I'll take a hundred dollars worth. Would you like that?"
Let me scribble this bank draft out here while you get my bonds ready.
You know, I wish there was some way I could find that lamp today. Who knows, maybe one of those wonder boys - Edison, Tesla or Pupin - could figger out how to recharge its battery. I'd sure like to see her again - although I'm sure now it'd be the death of me.
Then again, maybe we could run the same razzle-dazzle a second time, eh? Put her on a slow boat to Berlin and sic her on Old Willie! I bet that would make the ends of his mustache spin!
Hang the Kaiser, indeed!

 -the end-