The sand stretched
for miles on end, as far as the eye could see in every direction.
The afternoon sun hovered in the cloudless sky. Two hours had
passed since Valero watched Tom Mullins scamper away with what
was left of the gold they’d stolen. He’d taken Valero’s horse,
guns, and only canteen as well. Maybe it was guilt that stayed
his hand when it came to Valero’s hat—his last defense against
the blistering sun. Keeping his eyes to the sand, Valero trudged
onward, zigzagging over the endless dunes. His body weakened
under the strong sun. A prayer was the only thing that assured
him he was heading towards a town.
If he ever caught
up to Mullins, he thought, he’d empty 12 shots into his body.
One after the other, 6 in the head and 6 in the chest. He imagined
it and smiled, but the thought fled as he eyed the empty holsters
at his sides. The smirking image of Mullins, staring back one
last time before he disappeared over one of the dunes, crept
into his mind instead. No doubt that double-crossing son-of-a-bitch
imagined it was the last time he’d see Valero. But he’d made
one mistake which assured that it wouldn’t be. He’d left Valero
standing. That was the one thing which puzzled him more than
anything else. Why the greedy bastard had stolen away with the
gold wasn’t a mystery in the least. But why hadn’t he killed
Valero for good measure? It wasn’t that he didn’t have a stomach
for killing; he’d skin his pa if there was money in it. But Mullins
had ridden away without firing his pistol once. Valero couldn’t
The sun grew hotter
as the hours passed. It pulsed in the sky and rose in waves from
the sand. Valero’s mouth was as dry as cotton and his lips were
cracked and stiff. The agony in his legs and back grew more intense
with every step. Delirium began to settle in his mind. Suddenly,
lying down in the sand didn’t seem like such a bad idea. The
pain may go away if I just stop, he thought. Find a big dune
and let the sand bury me deep. His eyes shut and opened slowly.
Each blink lasted longer than the last. Then, as the black splotches
grew before his eyes, he toppled face first into the sand. It
was a sound that nobody heard, except for the two large vultures
circling greedily in the sky.
Valero would’ve sworn
that he’d died in that moment, but the bearded man in a top hat,
whose eyes glided over him with the care of a physician, assured
him that he hadn’t. Valero took the cup of water which was offered
and drank. The coolness of the water caressed his swollen tongue
and brought his mind back down to Earth. He eased up onto his
elbow, taking another long drink. His body still felt weak. The
filtered sunlight around him suggested that he was in the back
of a covered wagon. A quick look around, however, assured him
that it was no ordinary outfit. There were a few strange-looking
gadgets in the corners and box upon box of elixir bottles. A
shingle hung at the back end that read Prof. Alonzo the Magnificent
in big bold letters.
Valero drank again,
looking at who he assumed was the eponymous professor over the
rim of his cup. The man had a round, red face and thick gray
beard. His top hat was drawn low on his forehead, just a couple
inches above his glowing eyes. He smiled with the charisma of
a politician. “Son,” he said, rubbing his hands together, “I
had my doubts. But you’ve pulled through.”
Valero took a deep
breath. “I…” he started, but the words sent a sharp pain down
his throat. He reached up, rubbing his neck, then continued in
a raspy voice. “Where’d you find me?”
“Damn, son, whereabouts?
Well, I was headin’ towards Trinity Hill planning to set up shop.
Just between you and me,” he laughed, holding his hand to the
side of his mouth, “they ran me out of the Black Springs. I’m
not a fighting man, see, so I decided to move out last night.”
“Ran you out, huh?”
“On a rail,” he grinned. “I
ducked out and headed alongside this patch of desert. Lovely
country, really. Nice young feller told me ‘bout the town up
yonder—said it was brimming with business. Just luck how I found
you though. Saw some vultures hovering, so I unhooked one of
my mares and headed out this way. Stumbled across you about a
half-mile in, heaped up in the sand. That was about two hours
ago. We’re a mile or so outside of Trinity, if you care to know.
And if you also care to know, the name’s Alonzo.” Pointing to
the sign at the back of the wagon, he winked.
“My name’s Valero.
I’m indebted to you.” Valero weakly tipped the brim of his black
“More than you may
know,” Prof. Alonzo said. “It was none other than Prof. Alonzo
the Magnificent’s world-famous Elixir of Life, known the seven
seas over, which saved your life.”
“I’ll be damned,” Valero
said, easing his back against the front of the wagon. He exhaled
a breath of relief. His body would be back to shape in no time.
He was already feeling stronger.
“You just stay back
here, young fellah,” Alonzo said backing out of the wagon. He
stood in the desert, looking through the large round hole. “I’ll
drive us into Trinity. You get some rest. You know, a story like
yours would sell a hundred bottles of this stuff.” His eyes lit
up at the thought of it.
A thin smile crossed
As Alonzo moved around
to the front of the wagon, he slapped his hand against the canvas. “Oh
yeah,” he said, “I forgot to tell you…”
Valero’s back stiffened.
“You owe me 50 cents.”
Complete story available in the
print edition of Big Pulp Winter 2010