The Alternate History Fiction of Lou Antonelli

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Barsoom Billy"

Originally published in Science Fiction Trails, No. 9 All Martian Spectacular Fall 2012


The gunfighter stuck a boot forward so as to block the stranger’s path.  “Where you from, son?” he snarled as he spat chewing tobacco juice at the stranger’s feet.
The stranger turned and tilted his head, and looked the gunfighter in the eye from under his brim.  “Barsoom,” he said evenly.
The gunfighter’s gaze froze.  The stranger’s skin was an even light brown--“high yaller” as you would say of Negroes--and his eyes were bright yellow, like a school-girl’s ribbon.
“Ne--Nev--Never heard of it.”  The desperado stammered, taken aback at the stranger’s appearance.
His henchman, who was turned away to watch their back, asked--in a much less aggressive tone, “So what’s your name, tenderfoot?”   When there was no immediate reply, he turned and then gasped.
“Billy,” said the stranger, rather plainly.
The henchman’s mouth hung open.  The gunfighter couldn’t break the gaze of the stranger, who finally turned his head away and looked down at the gunfighter’s boot blocking his progress.
The gunfighter snapped his boot back.  “We--we--we don’t want any trouble,” sputtered the henchman.
The stranger continued walking down the plank sidewalk.
“What was that?” asked the henchman.
“I don’t know, but I saw ‘kill’ in his eyes,” said the gunfighter.  “Let’s vamoose. Someone is fixin’ to get kilt here in Cedar Gulch, and I don’t want it to be us’ns.”
The two desperados quickly crossed the street.
Billy walked around the corner, having never looked back, and crossed the street on the next block to Cazale’s Cantina.   His head was lowered as he pulled open the heavy oaken door. There was a pile of well-thumbed dime novels stacked on a table near the door, close enough to be read by sunlight.
Billy walked over and looked over the garish covers.  A very thin smile appeared as he saw a pulp magazine that touted a tale about Buffalo Bill--his namesake, as it were.  He pulled up a chair and sat down, turning the pages with his thumb.  The bartender emerged from behind his palisade of a bar and walked over.
“Afternoon, stranger,” said the bartender as Billy looked up.  “What will it be?
“Do you have any good red wine?” asked Billy. 
“As a matter of fact, I do,” said the bartender.   “I have a barrel of the best Zinfandel just arrived from California.”
 “A large one, then,” said Billy, tossing a shiny silver dollar on the table.  “Keep the change.”.
The bartender returned with a large tin cup of red wine, which he set before Billy.  “Never seen you here before,” he said, with a fake smile.
“Just passing through,” said Billy, as he made eye contact.
The bartender saw his bright yellow eyes and gulped.  “Yep,” he said slowly.  “You’re not from ‘round here.”
Some of the Cedar Gulch “girls” were at a nearby table, playing cut throat poker.  A stunning brunette turned to look at Billy.  She saw from behind he was well-groomed and neatly dressed in new but simple clothes which had just begun to acquire Nevada dust.
“This fella looks interesting,” she said, getting up.
“He’s all yours,” said another, “he looks like a quadroon.”
Hepzibah walked over to the stranger.  “If you need someone to show you Cedar Gulch, cowboy, I can help you.”
She raised an eyebrow as she saw the startled look on the bartender’s face.  Billy was looking down at his wine and didn’t notice either expression.
She cocked her head and carried on with her next move.  “What’s your name, cowpoke?”
She laid a hand on his upper arm from behind.
The bartender stepped back in alarm as Hepzibah stiffened as if she was being electrocuted.  Billy turned around in his and threw her hand off.
Hepzibah relaxed into a normal posture and then focused her gaze on Billy.
“Barsoom sha kundala unos ta, Ka-nacht!”   She intoned.
“You have the gift of second sight,” said Billy
“I’m the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter,” said Hepzibah, slipping back into English.
Billy turned back around and drained his wine.  He stood up and extended his hand.  “You can show me the town now,” he said to Hepzibah.  She took his hand.
The pair walked out into the lengthening shadows.
“Damn!”  The bartender muttered as he slid the silver dollar into his cash box.  He walked to the door and propped it open with his boot to watch them as they walked away.
Just then, Billy and Hepzibah turned as they heard a commotion.  A small group of drunken cowboys who had just left the largest saloon in Cedar Gulch, Hell’s Half Acre, staggered around the end of the block, whooping it up and shooting into the air.
The man in the lead stopped and stared at Billy as he belched and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.  “Look, fellows, we have us a tenderfoot.”
Billy turned to face the half dozen men.  “He looks like he wants a fight,” said another.
Billy took a step towards them.  “You gentlemen should go home and get a good night’s sleep. You will feel better in the morning.”
The hoots and catcalls exploded.  “Gentlemen!”
The leader smiled at Billy.  “We’s having too much fun.”
He waved his gun in the air.  “And we ain’t no gentlemen.”
“Be careful,” Hepzibah hissed in Billy’s ear as she clutched the back of his shoulder. “You can’t take on six men.”
Billy put his hands atop his holsters.  “I think you men need to dispose of your weapons, before you are hurt.”
“Is that a threat?” the leader snarled.
“No, sir, a warning.”
“Are you sassing me?”
Billy half turned his head and side mouthed to Hepzibah.  “What does that mean?”
The leader leveled his gun.
The people looking on from the sidewalks and windows heard a quick “BRAP-P-P-P-P-P!” sound, and the drunken cowboys all dropped to the ground in quick succession.
Billy put one gun back in its holster as he turned to Hepzibah.   “Let’s depart, there are supplies I need to assemble.”
“As you say, Ka-nacht.”
The couple walked off towards Billy’s horse tethered across the street.
The gunfighter and his henchman--Pete and Cisco--had watched the massacre from the shadows of an alley.  “My God!” muttered Cisco.
“I tol’ you I saw kill in his eyes,” said Pete.  “Now, let’s skedaddle outta town.”
They watched from the deep shadows as Billy, with Hepzibah clutching him from behind, rode past the alley and towards the outskirts of Cedar Gulch.
“He’s come a long way for a reason, I reckon,” said Pete. “And I aim to find out what that is. Nobody moves in this town without giving me a cut!”
They walked into the street, and Pete clutched Cisco.  “Tell Heintz I want a report when  he knows sumthing.”
Cisco nodded and went on across the street where the bartender stood in the door.  The bartender leaned over as he listened to Cisco, then looked across to Pete, and nodded.


Cisco drained his beer.  Pete looked at him crossly.
“Still nothing new?” he asked.
“No, Heintz says after they picked up the mining tools and tinned grub, they never came back to town,” said Cisco.  “Nobody has either of them for two weeks.”
Pete scratched the stubble on his chin.  “I don’t know where the yellow-eyed stranger was from, but I cain’t believe Hepzibah just up and left like that.”
The doors of Hell’s Half Acre swung and Heintz looked around quickly.  Some of the denizens commented on his being out of place.
The large Dutchman saw Pete and Cisco and walked over rapidly.  “News, finally!” he gasped.  “Joe at the mercantile said Hepzibah just left, with a supply of rope and other supplies.”
He plunked himself down in an empty seat.   “He said it looks like they plan to travel.  He asked Hepzibah where she had been, and she said holed up a mine in Eagle Pass.”
Pete slapped the table.  “The old Foster Mine!”
Pete looked hard at Heintz.  “Are you sure?   That mine played out years ago”
“Joe said it there no doubt it, she said they stayed at the old superintendents shack.”
Pete reached into a pocket and pulled out a gold Eagle. He dropped it into Heintz’ chubby palm.  “That’s what I needed to know,” said Pete.  “Now, git!”
Heintz rose and sped off with surprising speed for someone of his girth.
Pete turned to Cisco.  “I knew someone who’d come to town and look like he’d kill the first man he meets must have some serious business,” he said, “and I want to learn what it is.”
Cisco shrank back a bit.  “Those eyes!”
“The sumbitch is a furriner, that’s all,” said Pete.  “He caught us unawares.”
Cisco brightened a bit.  “You always said, men only want two things, women and money, and he’s got a woman.”
Pete tapped Cisco on the side of his head with a forefinger.  “Now you’re thinking. He must know where there’s a lost lode.”
“We fixin’ to go to Eagle Pass?”
Pete squinted at the setting sun.   “First thing in the morning.”


Pete and Cisco crouched behind a low rise that overlooked the entrance to the old Foster Mine.  Smoke rose from the tin smokestack of the old superintendent’s cabin.
“That’s queer, they ain’t stirred all morning,” said Cisco.
“I suppose they’re packing,” said Pete.  “The wagon looks like it is all ready.”
They heard the cabin door creak open, and Hepzibah came our wearing a gingham dress and bonnet.  
“They are ready to hitch up and leave,” said Pete.
She walked around the cabin to the rain barrel.  She flipped open the lid and dipped in a large pitcher.
She turned as she slammed down the lid, and sniffed the air--like a hound.  She frowned and ran quickly back into the cabin.
Cisco looked at Pete, who had a puzzled look.  “I think we’re made,” said Cisco.
“But how?” asked Pete.
The cabin door slammed twice; after the second time, Billy walked around the corner.
He cupped his hands and shouted at the ridge.   “Gentlemen!  Come out, I know you’re there!”
Hepzibah walked up behind Billy.  “Sharing one body with you has given me some of your Martian craft,” she said.  “I smelled them out.”
“Please don’t use the Earth name,” whispered Billy, “for my sake.”
Pete stood up, both guns drawn, and began to advance.   “We don’t want no trouble from you!  We want what you’ve mined.” Cisco followed.
Billy looked at the pair of outlaws impassively.  “You’re welcome to take as much of my mineral as you want, for what good it is to you,” he said.
Pete walked in an arc around Billy and Hepzibah, towards the loaded wagon, with his guns pointed at them.  Finally, as he reached the wagon, Pete waved a six gun towards Cisco. “Git over here and see what’s in the boxes.”
Cisco nodded and went over to the wagon.  He pulled off the canvas, and saw the boxes were nailed shut.
“There’s a crowbar on the floorboard,” said Billy.
“You’re being very cooperative,” said Pete sarcastically.
“There’s no silver in the boxes,” said Billy.
“Looks like he’s right,” said Cisco, peering into a box.  “Nothing here but crumbly black clay.”
Billy began to walk towards Pete.  “It’s called pitchblende.”
“You stay right there, you devil or demon or whatever you is,” said Pete, sticking out his six-shooters.
“I’m just as human as you are, just from a very different and distant land,” said Billy.  “I need that ore for, how would you put it, my steamship’s boiler.”
Cisco was pawing through another box.  He turned toward Billy.  “Huh?”
“I was on a long voyage when I was starwashed....”
“Shipwrecked!” blurted Hepzibah.
“Yes, shipwrecked, and my steamship, as it is, needs a particular kind of ‘coal’.  I can refine this ore to make more of the fuel I need,” said Billy.  It’s called uranium.”
“There’s no silver left in the mine,” said Hepzibah.  “Only this ore.  And it’s no good to you.”
Pete looked at Billy.  “If it’s worth something to you, it’s worth something to someone else, and I’m still taking it.”
“You mean to commit theft?” asked Billy. There was just a hint of a rise in tone at the end of the question.
“And shoot the pair of you.  I saw you quick draw in town, but you made your last mistake, stepping out without your shooting irons,” said Pete.  He began to squeeze the trigger.
It appeared as if a handful of dust had been thrown in the air.  Cisco blinked, and then looked down as the dust settled to see Pete, his neck obviously broken.
Billy walked to each side of the twitching corpse and kicked the guns from its hands.
Billy looked at Cisco, who realized the dust was thrown up because Billy had advanced on Pete so quickly he threw up a dust trail.
“Please!” Cisco begged as Billy looked at him.
“Where I come from, any public declaration of an intent to commit a crime allows the instant application of the death penalty,” said Billy.
“You had better git, Cisco, right quick,” snarled Hepzibah.
Billy raised a hand. “Wait, don’t be so hasty.  He is obviously an inborn servant.”
Billy walked over to where Cisco leaned on the wagon.  “If you help us get this wagonload safely to Texas, I will reward you.”
Billy turned to Hepzibah.  “It’s a long journey.  We could use help.”
Cisco was almost in tears.  “Whatever you want Mister Barsoom!”
“See, he’s not sub-intelligent, simply subservient,” said Billy to Hepzibah.   “He remembers Barsoom.  He may be of service.”
“As you say, Ka-nacht,” said Hepzibah.
“You can ride in the back and protect the boxes,” said Billy to Cisco.
“I’ll go gab the bags and finish filling the canteen like we planned,” said Hepzibah, as she turned and walked back to the cabin.
Billy looked at Cisco. “Have you ever been to Texas?”
“Yes, I was reared there!  I grew up in Mineral Wells.  I came out years ago for the Comstock Strike.”
“We will go to Texas, and spend at least the winter while I refine my ore. Then I can retrieve my ship and set sail back to my home. I t is called Barsoom.”
“Never heard of it, but I ain’t got no education.”
“My people settled a faraway colony many, many years ago, just like your people have come to Nevada.  The weather and land were much the same, except that over time, the rain stopped entirely,” said Billy. “Over many years, we have drifted back to Earth, but it is a long voyage, and takes many months.”
“I came to set up a homestead for my family here in the United States,” he continued, “but as I said, I was shipwrecked.   I need to return to Barsoom and bring my family back with me.”
“Is Barsoom farther than India or China?”
“Much farther.”
“I always thought it would be good to go back to Texas.  Can you take me to Barsoom? I’ll earn my keep and go straight once and for all!”
“Sounds like a grand plan,” said Billy as stuck out his hand.
The pair shook.  “You won’t be sorry, Mister Barsoom Billy.  You’ll know Cisco Burroughs will always ride shotgun for you!”
Billy looked through a spy glass towards the Indian encampment.
“I had thought your government had cleared away the aborigines to make way for settlers,” he said to Cisco.
“There ain’t no settlers way out here, the nearest city is over 200 miles back towards Mexico,” said Cisco.
Hepzibath squinted.  “It looks like they’ve made an altar in front of your craft.”
“They have,” said Billy.  “Even as primitive as they are, they are still the long-lost children of the Aztlans, who were friends of my people, also, before the great war and deluge.  They probably recognize some of the insignia and markings.”
“How do you plan to get your craft back?” asked Hepzibah.
Billy turned to Cisco.  “Go back in the wagon and get me a stave, some twine, a burlap sack and some of that boot blacking.”
Cisco set off as he was told.
“What do you plan, Ka-nacht?”
“You will see in a moment.”
Cisco returned with the materials, and kept watch at the edge of the cliff as Billy retreated under the shade of a rock and began whittling.
Hepzibah spoke up after a few minutes.  “You’re making a doll?”
“A ka-cheen of my ka-nacht,” said Billy. “A symbol of my people. I believe they will recognize it.”
When he was through, he advanced to Cisco. “I will go down unarmed, so as not to alarm them,” he said. He started down and after checking the layout of the encampment from behind a boulder, stepped out and uttered a strange cry.
The Apaches turned and started to whoop, but all stopped when they saw the Thunderbird Kachina doll he held at arm’s length. Billy raised his right arm and pointed to the sky, uttering a peaceful greeting in Old High Aztlan.
The Indians all prostrated themselves, face buried in the red desert sand. Billy could tell from their postures and body paint which one was the chief. He stepped over to him.
“Do you have any English?”
The man shook his face back and forth in the sand.
A brave spoke, face still buried. “I speak English.”
“Rise, then, I need a translator.”
When the brave saw Billy’s complexion and eyes, his eyes grew wide. “You are one of the Anasazi gods!”
“My people were the Anasazi, although I am not a god. It is good to know the children of our allies the Aztlans still remember our alliance.”
Billy called out to Cisco and Hepzibah, and they emerged from the rocks at the base of the cliff. “These people are also my allies,” said Billy.
He spoke to the brave. “Tell the others to rise.”
When all the braves were upright, Billy spoke to the translator. “Tell your people I am grateful for the protection of my star craft. I plan to return to the stars with it.”
There were loud gasps. “I need to prepare my fuel, and I must camp here for some months,” Billy continued. “I will reward your people if they serve me.”
There were nods all around. Billy turned and intoned the ancient Aztlan/Anasazi Oath of Fealty. “Hul laorra ballo, ka-necht!”
Somehow, they all knew the response and shouted back, “Ka-necht!”
Billy turned to Cisco, and nodded towards the translator.  “You two get acquainted, and get the wagon unloaded so we can set up camp.”


“We couldn’t have done it without the help of your Indian friends,” said Cisco.
Hepzibah smiled and looked up from her knitting.  “I can’t believe they found enough wood to keep those kettles boiling all winter.  I think some of them went halfway to Panama to get good wood for you.”
“I thought you were crazy when you bought those big kettles in El Paso,” said Cisco.
“Desperate, perhaps, but not crazy as you say,” said Billy.  “It’s taken months, but I think I have enough fissionable material to ignite the drive of my craft.” He faced the translator. “Once I get up high enough, I can kick on the inertial drive and fly off the Earth’s rotation like a skipping stone.”
The Indian puzzled and then raised his eyebrows. “Then you plan to return to the Gods!”
Billy smiled.  “Yes, Winnetou, but I will return with members of my tribe, and then I hope we all may live together.”
Billy put his hand on Winnetou’s shoulder.  “Go tell your brothers, we prepare for my rise to the stars!”
Winnetou whooped, turned and ran off.
Hepzibah smiled and continued to knit. “You really should give them something in return for their aid all winter.”
“I will give them my son, as a hostage,” said Billy.
Cisco gasped. “You ain’t taking Hepzibah!?”
“We talked about this, Cis, I’m too far along to travel,” said Hepzibah. “Billy and I are in agreement.”
“I will return in two Earth years in a larger craft with other family members and my other wives,” said Billy.
“Damn, I didn’t know Mars people wuz Mormons!” said Cisco.
Billy and Hepzibah laughed.
Billy reached over into a kettle and drew out a black wooden spoon.  “I will give them a real gift, the light of the ‘gods’.” He leaned over into the shadows where the spoon glowed.  “The residue of Element 88 will impress them for some time to come.”
“But what am I supposed to do while you’re gone, boss?” asked Cisco.
“Stay with Hepzibah and after the child is born, wait a year and then rendezvous with me. I expect you and Winnetou to take them to where I will arrive, where I intended to alight all along.”
“Yes, I remember, you were only 300 miles short when your ship broke down,” said Cisco.  “Must have been frusterating.”
“Yes, but then again, that is where my clan’s old land grant is located, the land grant my ancestor received for service to the Aztlans in the war. It was valueless then because of the Raman occupiers, but they are long gone.”
He looked out across the desert valley.  “And I doubt the Americans care about settlers in such a desolate location.”
Hepzibah smiled at Billy. “You have a very terran sentimental streak, ka-nacht, to want to return to the old homestead.”
Cisco nodded. “Billy’s right, though, there’s lots of nuthin’ in East New Mexico.”
Hepzibah rose and walked over to Billy. She rubbed her big belly against his side. “What did your clan call the place, so many years ago?”
“It was a beautiful and green plain, with fruit trees and gardens,” said Billy, “before the fire storms flew.”
He grimaced. “It was called ‘varadasartesia’”
“What does that mean?” asked Cisco.
“It’s what you call a beautiful garden of roses with a deep well at the center,” said Billy.
“I will wait for you there, and we will make the desert bloom again,” said Hepzibah.
“I’ll meet you there, too, boss, and I’ll help you build up a ranch,” said Cisco.
Billy smiled. “Thank you, my wife and my servant, you have been good to me. With the gods’ forbearance, we will all meet together and start a new home.”
“We will put up a sign when we arrive, as we wait for you,” said Hepzibah, “and restore its name again.”
Billy snorted.  “Not what he said, better translate it.”
Hepzibah clasped Billy. “We’ll call it Rose Well, then.”
Cisco clapped and rubbed his hands.  “Rose Well, New Mexico! I already like the sound of it!”

[The End}

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful story! Great twist ending!

    All great science fiction has Martians.

    A.E. Williams