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 figure it.

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 Stetson.

“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 Valero’s face.

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



Coy Hall lives and writes in Kentucky, where he is a graduate student in history. Drop him a line at

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Ted Bundy's Beetle

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