The weather is coming up and it’s cold out. But inside, I am happy as can be. Spent a long time trying to figure out what to do out here, how to make my way. But nothing quite worked out. So I decided banks and robbing them was the way to go.
Hit a bank just two days ago, and ran like the devil out of that town. It was a big score and I got away. I plan on moving further west, buy some land and try ranching. But I might want to rob one more bank before I settle down to ranching life, just to make sure I have enough to never suffer again.
I tipped my hat down after looking up at what looks like a hellatious storm coming up. Not sure where that came from. Out here in the open, weather is constant enough that I am not that surprised about it. My leather hat and coat do a pretty good job keeping a cowboy covered up. The ranching jobs I did along my way out west made me a pretty savvy cowboy. I fit right in out here, blend in like another husk in the field.
Opening my saddlebag I touched the money. I already counted it earlier and it feels really good to my touch. I just wanted to touch it again, feel its paper. Nothing else feels the same as money. I feel kind of bad taking it, but those banks have plenty of it. I am sure they won’t suffer like I was before I got this money. I have spent enough time suffering and having this money is a great relief.
My horse Rusty is sleeping, he is a good horse, no, he’s better than that, he’s a great horse. That boy can run, and he’s the reason we got away. I plan to buy a lot more good horses when I get my ranch. I wish I had some whiskey right now, help warm me up, the storm is pouring down rain now. Lightning has started up, but I am in a safe place to avoid it.
Lightning is crashing all around me now, Rusty ran off. I’m not sure I shouldn’t run too, but I am fixated on it. I have never seen lightning crashing all around me like this before. Before I knew it, the whole lightning show ended. It wasn’t even raining anymore. The whole place became instantly as bright as if it was the middle of the day.
I look for Rusty, but I don’t see him anywhere. I can see a long way. There is nothing that hides much from view, just some tumbleweeds growing all over. I looked again and I realize these aren’t tumbleweeds. Examining it closer I know I have never seen a plant out here like this, and they are everywhere. I looked up to see the sun, just to make sure it was there, and it was nowhere.
I decided to go look for Rusty and start calling him. That horse never went far when he ran off. He and I were together through so much; we were bonded like good pals. It worries me that I can’t see him.
Suddenly I see something moving in the distance. It causes me to instantly put my hand on my gun. I jumped behind one of the weird looking tumbleweeds and watch it and as it comes closer. I don’t think that it is a person, it looks different, bigger. The tumbleweed I’m hiding behind has long tubular stems that seem to be gurgling and pulsating I notice. Not sure what this plant is but I am sure I have never seen one of these before.
I look back and whatever it is has gotten close enough for me to see its long black tubular body connected to two long black tubular arms on a head that is just a big tube of black too. I can’t see any eyes or anything that resembles a face, just a big blank blackness.
It’s dragging through the desert sand, the tube of black moving towards me. Still. I don’t know what this is, but I’m glad I have my gun. I haven’t taken my hand off it yet. It doesn’t have eyes so I don’t know how it could see me. But I don’t want to take a chance on something I have never seen before, on what it can or can’t do. I stay crouched watching and hoping it passes me by without seeing me at all.
Suddenly feeling something hot next to me, burning my thigh, I see a small fire burning. I put it out with the sand.
Not sure where that came from, but when I looked up I knew. It was this creature. I drew my gun and fired and it dropped to the ground with a thud. There wasn’t any blood. I didn’t see a bullet hole but I know I hit him. I am wishing for Rusty now, I would jump on him and ride off. I still haven’t seen him and now I am worried.
I wait and watch the blackness just lay there motionless. I can’t help but get closer and examine it. Figure out what this creature is. Maybe some Indian thing I think, after I get close enough to see it clearly. It looks like a heap of black tar. I notice it is melting into the ground and suddenly it speeds up. All that is left is the bullet I hit this thing with. I picked it up and it felt warm, I put it in my pocket to take it with me.
I’ve never seen anything like this. I decide it’s definitely time to move on, find Rusty. As soon as I start to leave I see one of these strange tumbleweeds near me explode. Instantly hundreds of new creatures I have never seen before appeared.
They are all identical green balls, the size of an orange. Each one has a single tentacle with what looks to be an eyeball on the end of it. They are all moving around spraying something into the air through that one eye. I moved away so they don’t spray me and started running. For a moment I thought they were running after me. After running for a bit, I was certain they had no interest in me at all.
I looked up to find the sun, but again it isn’t in the sky. I am no scientist but I know the sun should be up in the sky on a bright day. I start wondering whether I am dreaming. This world looks off from the one I’ve lived in so far, and that is how it is in a dream. But this sure feels real and I feel awake. I feel the bullet that I killed that creature with in my pocket, and it’s still there. I open my saddlebag and touch the money, it still feels like the money and looks like it too. I decide I just didn’t notice this place much in the night when Rusty and I got here.
I keep walking towards west, it’s the way I was headed and Rusty luckily ran this way too. I see more of these strange tumbleweeds exploding and the same thing happening afterward. I stay away from the spray, some plants I know can be deadly and I know nothing about this plant.
I spot something in the distance and it looks like the color of Rusty, so I am pretty sure it’s him. I start running towards him shouting out his name. He doesn’t seem to be responding. Once I get close enough to see detail I realize this isn’t Rusty. It’s a beast of some sort, but I have never seen anything like it. It looks at me and starts charging, as it gets closer, I can see how hideous this creature is.
Its head is mottled with layers of fat and as it runs I see one large eye in the center now and then as the flaps fly around. It is hairless and has three legs and it’s letting out a chilling howling sound like I have never heard. I aim my gun and fire but it doesn’t drop. it just keeps charging.
Suddenly from the north another beast has appeared. It seems to be interested in this thing charging me. This creature is gigantic and its head has tentacles coming out in every direction with large eyeballs at the end of each one. Its torso is large and fatty with two large arms with several tentacles on the end of each arm. The tentacles are all flailing about as it is running towards the creature charging me. It reaches it well before it reached me, and sucked it into its tentacles in just seconds.
I don’t move, I know it’s better if this thing doesn’t see me. I don’t think I have enough bullets to kill it. I am thinking that this place may not be a dream and may not be earth either. I don’t know how I got here, but I want out of here fast. I never heard stories about creatures like this anywhere in the west and I am sure I would have heard of about this.
I look for the sun again, but it still isn’t there, and the sky is blue and bright but there is no sun. The giant creature hasn’t seen me. It is walking back to the north. I am relieved when it is gone. Moving on now is making me nervous. I wish again that I could find Rusty. He would be a faster way out of here than on foot, and I miss him too.
By the time it turns dark I have almost reached the trees. But they don’t look like any trees I have ever seen before. They have thick green tubes like those weird tumbleweeds. I can hear them all gurgling loudly. I’m not sure I am going in there now. I look up for the moon. I see three planets in the dark sky and suddenly I’m certain I’m not on earth.
Something happened in that lightning I realize. It has taken me here to this alternate reality, this other planet. I know I need to find a way back. Lightning brought me here and it’s probably the only way back. But there hasn’t been any weather here since I got here, not even a wisp of wind.
I decide to walk around the tree line. It looks too treacherous in there. I don’t want to be sprayed by whatever these plants and trees are shooting out. I start feeling like I don’t have enough bullets with me for this place. I haven’t been attacked again by any creatures, but for now I just feel lucky.
I hear some mumbling and it sounds like there is a group of people talking low, but I can’t make it out clearly. It’s coming from inside the trees it seems. I have to walk inside to hear it better. I decide to risk it, hoping there are other people here that might know a way out, a way back to earth.
As I walk further in, the mumbling gets clearer and I can hear words being spoken. I can’t make out what they are saying but they are definitely speaking in my language. I get excited to meet whoever is here too and forget about the nasty trees for a minute as I beeline for the sound of their voices.
There is a clearing up ahead and I can see them through the trees. There seem to be four of them, two women and two men. They are wearing clothes that are very different, but I remember seeing those kinds of clothes people wore in the past in some books in the city, before I left for the west. I wondered if they might even be a theatrical group that got sent here together.
I can hear what they are saying now and it seems they are talking about me. Seems they know I arrived. They are deciding what to do about me. I decide to wait until I hear them make a decision, before I let them know I am here. Just then a tree above me shot out some of that spray. I moved to avoid it and they spotted me in the trees.
They were all running towards me now, and I don’t think I can trust them so I run. One of them catches me and tackles me to the floor and knocks me out with one strong punch to my chin.
My eyes aren’t open yet but I am awake again. I can hear them talking about me again. I am lying down on the ground and it feels like cold dirt underneath me. It’s still dark out and my head hurts where he punched my lights out. I can hear them talking about me not staying with them. I am hoping that means they can send me back.
I open my eyes and get up. I feel for my gun and am glad it is still there and my saddlebag is next to me too. Guess money and guns don’t mean much to these folks I think. They see I am awake and the man that knocked me out is first to reach me. I sit back a bit, ready for him to try again and this time intending to knock him out instead.
“Relax, we had to do that. Not everyone that comes here is friendly,” the man said reaching out his hand as a friend would to help me up.
I decided to take it and got to my feet with his help. He didn’t try to take me out again and I was glad for it.
“So are you a theatrical group or something? Do you know the way back? Are there other people here?” I asked wanting to get to the bottom of it, find Rusty and get back home. I realize that Rusty may not even be here, he might be back on earth.
“We are only a group because we are all here. You met a few of them when you arrived,” the woman said her hair tied up fashionably matching her Victorian blue dress with a large bustle in the back.
I didn’t understand what she meant as I had only met creatures. But I had going home on my mind and wasn’t so interested in figuring anything else out.
“So how do I go home? That is what I really want to know folks,” I said looking at each one as I said it to discern whether any of them, or all of them, knew how to get back to earth.
“We think there is only one way home. But if you don’t make it, you become one of the creatures you encountered when you got here,” the other man said, he was dressed like he worked on a ship a hundred years ago.
“You all have been stuck here for hundreds of years or what? I mean you are all wearing clothes that mean you should have been dead long ago already. I didn’t die did I?” I asked hoping I didn’t get the wrong answer.
“We aren’t dead and neither are you. This planet stops time, stops aging in everyone who comes here,” the man who knocked me out said. He looked like he stepped out of the time of Jesus, his clothes just robes and a rope belt.
“Did you all get here through the lightning too? I mean I think that is what happened to me,” I said and they all shook their heads, and I knew it was the lightning that did me in.
“Okay well I don’t want to stay here. So which way is out? Just point me in the right direction,” I asked. I was ready to fight my way back. I didn’t risk my neck robbing a bank, to be stuck in this place where money isn’t worth anything.
“No one we know of has made it, we just end up with another creature whenever someone has tried,” the other woman said. She looked like she stepped out of the time of the Egyptians. She wore an outfit a gold skirt and a bandeau gold top with a headband of gold and a little snake in the middle of it.
‘Well you all don’t worry, I am making it through, and going back to earth, whatever it takes,” I said confidently. I knew hanging around here for eternity was not a plan.
“If we let you try and you fail, we have another creature to deal with,” the man dressed in the old time sailor suit said.
“If I make it, then you might all have the courage to try to get back yourselves. Well, times have changed since you left. But I guess all you have to do is change your clothes to fit in. So just point me in the direction of this exit and let me be on my way now, ” I said, I knew nothing was going to stop me, or at least I hoped not.
They all huddled together for a private pow wow and kept their voices lowered so I couldn’t hear them. I decided to let them decide whatever. But whatever they decided, I wasn’t going to sit around here longer than I had to. If they didn’t show me the exit, I would find it. They found it, so I could too, even if they didn’t tell me.
I was glad when they decided to let me try and showed me the way to the exit. The man in the robe led me there. But when we reached it, he wished me good luck and left quickly.
It didn’t look like much of a threat, just a cave. But frontier caves could hold lots of trouble. So I wasn’t going in without preparing for everything that could be in here. I had my gun out and ready in front of me.
I walked for a while before I met the first creature in here. It had two large eyes as its only head and the body of a giant worm slithering across the dirt at me. I shot at it and it dropped. I was really glad I had my gun with me. I wondered whether any of the others that tried to make it through had a gun.
When I passed the creature’s dead corpse, something was oozing out of it from where the bullet went in. It was yellow and slimly looking and it started smoking. I walked around it, not touching anything because it looked like it’s oozing fluids were cooking something else up.
I picked up my pace to get far away from it. When I turned a corner everything changed. In front of me was a bright wall of light. There was a dark blackness in the center of it. To go farther, I would have to pass through it. I stood there looking at it for a while, trying to figure out whether trying to pass through it meant certain death or not.
I heard something sounding like it was scurrying behind me. I looked back and I could see that thing I killed had bred into more creatures. There were hundreds of them running at me. They all looked like that giant tentacle monster I had seen a while back. But they were all smaller, like babies but bigger. I could see only one option and that was to go through this wall of blackness. I jumped through hoping for the best.
I was suspended in blackness now, flying through a black tunnel. All I could see were stars, millions of stars, all around but far away from me. I was cradled in this black cocoon and being transported through it weightlessly moving forward through it. Where is it taking me, I wondered. But there was no going back. Whatever was going to happen now was going to happen. It had control over me and I had none. I had to just wait and see what happened next. I hoped I was back on earth when it ended.
Suddenly, I lost consciousness and when I woke up again I was sitting in a jail cell in the town I robbed the bank in. There was a deputy sitting in the room at a desk. The jail was small, like the town, only two cells. My bag and gun were gone, and I could see them near the deputy’s desk.
“We thought you might never wake up. That was one hard hit you took falling off that mountain during the lightning storm. We thought you were gone for good. But guess you will be alive now for your hanging,’ the deputy said, a grin on his face proud of their success.
“A fall? I don’t remember any of that, I remember something quite different,” I said knowing he wouldn’t understand or believe the real journey I had been on. He gave me a curious look and went back to filling out paperwork again.
I realized that my fate was sealed. My quest for life back on earth ends here.
This time I relented to it. At least wherever I would go after the noose, I knew it was somewhere. Before my journey, I thought this world was all there was, but now I knew different.
Wanda Wright is an author of fantasy and science fiction novels, short stories and flash fiction.