The Drabblecast Weird Wild West continues, with “The Alamo” by Cedrick May.

Cover art by Tristan Tolhurst

 

 

 

 

The Alamo

by Cedrick May

 

The wounded man raised his hand to point, and Sam watched as blood dribbled like raindrops from the end of his finger.

“Water, boy… gimme’ some of that water there…”

Sam turned to look at the bladder of water hanging from a spike on the wall but shook his head.

“No, sir. You’ve got a gut wound. Look here…” Sam took one of the few clean rags that hadn’t been soaked in blood from the side table and dipped it into a half-filled pail of well water at the foot of the bed. He dabbed the damp towel across the wounded man’s lips, squeezing it a bit to let a few drops dribble into his mouth, but not enough to hurt him further. The man moaned as he lapped the meager drops of water from his pale, cracked lips. His arm fell limp over the edge of the thin straw mattress as he lapped the moisture in a delirious ecstasy. Sam almost felt pity for him as he placed the blood-soaked hand back over the hole in his stomach where blood continued to flow like a piddling fountain. As the man lapped, the roar of a rifle shot rattled the room causing Sam to jump and cover the man in the bed. The man continued licking at the wet rag as Sam shot a glance across the room at the other man standing in the doorway reloading a Springfield musket. Shots were being fired all around the mission compound as the Mexican army advanced on the walls, but Sam had managed to ignore the din as he nursed the Colonel. But a musket blast from inside was deafening.

“Goddamn it, Joe! Why the hell you shootin’?”

“Blasted Mexicans are comin’ over the walls! Tryin’ to keep ‘em at bay!” Joe said as he reloaded the rifle, shoving a ball and cartridge down the barrel with the ramrod.

Sam dipped the rag into the bucket of water again and dabbed at the wounded man’s forehead where a musket round had grazed him. Every part of him that wasn’t covered with blood was pale as winter.

“You’re a goddamned fool, Joe,” Sam called over his shoulder, “Shootin’ at the folks coming to make you free.” Another shot rattled the small room causing Sam to duck and curse under his breath. Sam looked up to see tears flowing down Colonel Travis’s bloody, soot-covered cheeks, carving semi-clean rows down the pale flesh. His body heaved with each sob.

“It wasn’t… supposed… to be like this,” Travis wept as he lay helpless, bleeding.

“I suppose not, Marse Travis,” Sam said, dabbing at the bloody headwound with the cool cloth.

“Where’s Bowie?” Travis asked, turning to Sam.

“Well, sir,” Sam hesitated, turning to stare out the window toward the barracks on the interior of the mission, “He dead.”

“What? No!”

“Yes, sir, he dead now. Blew his own brains out with a .54 Harper’s Ferry.”

Travis found the strength to grab Sam’s forearm, “Don’t lie to me, boy!” he said with wide eyes.

“Yes, sir. Marse Bowie shot hisself thinkin’ the Mexicans had already breached the walls and were after him. Was just the fever, though. He was lyin’ there raving like mad demanding his pistols. I gave them to him, and he just blew his brains all over the wall.”

Travis fell back on the mattress and wailed, holding the gushing wound in his gut. “No! It wasn’t supposed to go like this!”

“No, sir. Never took Marse Bowie as a kind to take his own life. Been with him near ten years now and seen him do a lot of crazy things, but—”

Sam winced as he relived the moment his master, James Bowie, commander of the Texian volunteers, took the gun and put it in his mouth. He had been sick and feverish for days, suffering the worst of an affliction picked up after a night of raging drunkenness, after he thought he had won sole command of the mission from Travis. But when the regular army and cavalrymen complained about Bowie’s drunkenness—how he’d ordered the release of all the prisoners from the San Antonio jails and harassed the local citizenry—another agreement was made for a shared command: Bowie getting the volunteers and Travis command of the professional soldiers and cavalrymen.

There was finally peace between the two men, but Bowie became so ill he was bedridden, forced to issue feverish orders from his sickroom for the next month. The doctors couldn’t make heads nor tails of it, and his condition got worse over time. In the final forty-eight hours of madness, the raving got so bad Sam was glad his master was too sick to stand, being convinced Bowie would have done some unspeakable violence to himself or someone attending to him. In his madness, he saw Santa Anna’s spies and abolitionists all around, and everyone was a threat. At the very end, he claimed he saw demons. Once the Mexican siege hit its most desperate hour, once the artillery had weakened the walls and the soldiers began scaling them in numbers, Bowie ordered Sam to give him his pistols so he could defend himself. Delirious with fear from the death and destruction he was witnessing, Sam obeyed—but didn’t expect his master to immediately put one of the flintlocks in his mouth and pull the trigger.

Sam never liked his master. Bowie was a cruel, vicious man. Although shocked by the sudden death at his own hands, Sam was not sad to see him wide-eyed on his side missing the whole back of his head.

Another deafening blast caused Sam to jump as Joe continued his defense, shielding himself behind the thick door. “They’re breaching the walls faster now,” he yelled over his shoulder, “Comin’ over in twos and threes!” He yanked another cartridge from the canvas ammunition pouch slung over his shoulder and reloaded.

“You don’t understand, Sam,” Travis said, wild eyed, “Bowie can’t be dead—I shouldn’t be laid up here, neither… Look!” Travis opened the top of his shirt to reveal a small green figurine hanging around his neck by a braided leather strap. Sam gasped at the sight of the grotesque little bauble. Bowie wore one exactly like it, though Sam had never seen the ugly little thing prior to his master’s recent fits of madness. Looking close now, Sam couldn’t figure out what the small carving was supposed to represent, but whatever it was, it didn’t look natural. A large, bulbous head sat directly atop the neckless shoulders of a corpulent body with bat’s wings erupting from between its shoulders. The thing’s face vaguely resembled something from a distant memory, like one of the creatures Sam remembered slithering around the ocean waters near his village back home. The carving seemed roughly hewn from a jade stone that gave off a dim glow. “This was supposed to protect me. Bowie, too—supposed to bring us eternal life and acclaim, bring us riches beyond our wildest imaginings!”

Travis gripped the odd stone carving as he began coughing uncontrollably, each violent contraction causing blood to gush from his wound. Sam pressed the rag against his stomach, but the cotton material was soon saturated.

Travis looked into Sam’s eyes, ashen and spent. “Why did you stop to help me, Sam?” he asked, his voice weak.

Sam thought back to the moment he ran from Bowie’s barracks so he could tell Travis of his master’s demise, only to see the colonel stumbling across the open yard, both hands cradling his stomach. His head suddenly snapped backward and he collapsed not ten feet from his own barracks room. Joe had been giving his master covering fire from the doorway, but now he fired his rifle over the prone body, concentrating on the republican soldiers coming through gaps in the upper walls. The cracking of rifle fire and thunder of canons from all directions was disorienting, making Sam’s vision blur and his head spin. He covered his ears to shut out some of the noise and regain his senses. He saw there was a panic on the catwalk all along the ramparts, though the walls had not yet been breached by more than a handful of Mexican infantrymen in their blue and white uniforms. Sam turned back toward the barracks when he saw Colonel Travis’s leg kicking in the dirt—he was still alive! Sam ran through the black smoke of gunfire and grabbed Travis under the arms, pulling him toward the room Joe was firing from.

“Why, Sam?” Travis asked again, his voice fading further, “Why’d you save me? I’ve bought and sold so many of your kind during my adult life, why didn’t you just leave me out there?”

“The barracoons,” Sam said.

“Barracoons?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You mean, in Africa?”

Sam nodded, “Yes, sir, the barracoons. When the neighborin’ tribes invaded my village, they killed my father, separated me from the rest of my family.

They put me in one of them barracoon where I was crammed in a cell, shoulder-to-shoulder with twenty strangers for forty days. We fought over breadcrumbs and the water that dripped through a crack in the ceiling when it rained. I had no one to help me. I was alone—”

“They’re in the mission!” Joe yelled from the door before firing off another round, “Our boys are falling back to the barracks! They’re forming a firing line!”

Travis stared at Sam for a moment before shooting a hateful glare at Joe’s back. “That stupid fucker over there,” he said as he rolled the amulet around in his fist. “I’ll bet he would have let me lay out there and die.” He glanced back at Sam, put a hand on his shoulder. “But you, Sam…” he trailed off as he opened his hand to reveal the amulet. Travis stared for a moment, deep in thought. “Holy…” he said, gaping closer at the luminous jade stone, “I wasn’t listening to him straight! Maybe this thing’ll still give me what I want, after all!” Travis’s eyes became wild as he considered the strange charm in his hand, “Maybe that old seer was right—maybe there’s still life and acclaim to be had!”

Sam saw a change come over Travis, a moment of manic energy that caused him to grip his shoulder and pull him closer. Sam wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but if it had anything to do with that nasty little totem, he didn’t want any of it.

“Jesus!” Joe yelled as he fired another booming shot through the door, “

They’re pouring over the walls—” Joe slammed the door shut and ducked into a crouching position right before a half-dozen musket balls blew holes through the wood, showering everyone inside with splinters. Sam covered his head to protect himself. He could hear the muffled screams of dying men through the walls and knew it wouldn’t be long before the republican troops came bursting in to find him tending one of the rebel leaders. Joe cracked the door and fired off another round. “Bring me those pistols!” he yelled, pointing at a pair of holstered muskets hanging from a peg next to the water bladder.

“Listen to me, Sam,” Travis continued, ignoring the splinters and ruckus from outside, “I can see now! As long as I wear this amulet, I can live on forever. But you’ve got to help me…” Travis’s energy was beginning to fade, and he lay back again, holding the weeping hole in his gut. “You’ve got to help me just one more time,” he said as his voice began to go quiet.

“Why should I do that now,” Sam said as the sounds of gunfire and panic echoed outside the barracks, “when freedom is about to come walkin’ through that door?”

“Riches, Sam!” Travis hissed, “There’s riches in it for you—you just have to trust me. Come close…”

“The guns! Hurry!” Joe screamed over his shoulder as Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis whispered secrets into Sam Ayodele’s ear. Meanwhile, the Texian defense had collapsed and Santa Anna’s soldiers were bayonetting everyone who stood before them. Joe dropped two cartridges in his fumbling rush to reload his rifle before firing off one last round. He screamed for the pistols hanging on the wall behind him as he slammed the heavy door and ducked just as two republican soldiers fired into the room. Two more holes erupted through the door over his head, spraying splinters everywhere.

When he opened his eyes, Joe was shocked to see that Sam was no longer in the room, and the peg that had held the holstered pistols was empty. There was a chair under the sole window. Tattered curtains hung draped on the outside of room now. Travis lay motionless in the bed, eyes wide open and lolled back in his head. He hugged the water bladder that once hung on a spike out of arm’s reach.

Joe cursed as the door flew open and several Mexican infantrymen barreled in to stab him repeatedly with their bayonets.

#

Sam was miles away before they started burning the bodies. He could have easily been among the cremated but had listened closely several days ago as Lieutenant James Bonham, whom Colonel Travis had sent out to find reinforcements in Goliad, boasted to Bowie how he had snuck though Santa Anna’s lines to rejoin his comrades after his failed operation. Sam didn’t particularly like the boy since he was always sucking up to Bowie, telling tall tales about his exploits. But Sam found his boasting instructive in this instance, and it helped him weave a path past the Mexican forces surrounding the mission. The sun was setting as he looked down on the burning, chaotic mess of what had once been a Catholic mission. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the necklace he’d taken from Travis after he drank the water that accelerated his death. He turned the amulet over in his hand, considering what the colonel has said to him about its supposed powers and the reward he would receive if he took the strange jewelry back to the Louisiana mystic who had given it to him. Sam slid the amulet back into his pocket and turned toward the south. He hadn’t gone three steps before a voice stopped him cold in his tracks.

“Where you think you going, Sam?” Sam turned slowly at the sound of the unfamiliar voice, raising his hands as he swiveled on his heels. He didn’t recognize the youthful Mexican soldier standing ten feet behind him pointing a flintlock pistol at his chest, but he did recognize the way he talked. There was a familiar hard tone and rhythm to his speech that was far too worldly and cynical for this young man, a boy barely out of his teens. The accent was all wrong, too, and there was no way Sam could think of that he could have known his name.

“Hello, Marse Bowie,” Sam said, eying the unfamiliar face in front of him.

The young man holding the pistol raised an eyebrow. A disheveled lock of blonde hair fell across one eye. “So, you know who I am?”

“Yes, sir. I knows the way you talk anywhere.”

The young man laughed.

“What color are my eyes?”

“Blue, sir.”

The laugh coming from the young man’s body didn’t match his youth any more than his voice. “If I have to be a Mexican, at least I get to be a blue-eyed one,” he said as he patted his pockets. “I wonder if I got any papers tellin’ me who I am…”

“Probably come from a rich family, given your youth and rank as lieutenant,”

Sam said, nodding toward the uniform. “You’re sportin’ a nice, fancy side arm, too. Ain’t no common infantryman. Lost your hat, though, Marse Bowie.”

“You’ve got a sharp eye, Sam. As always,” the young man said, taking a step closer, “But don’t go trying to butter me up. Don’t forget, I know you,” he said with a snarl. “I guess Travis told you about the amulets, huh?”

“He did, sir. Leastways, what he thought he knew.”

“Seems he didn’t know the half of it when he bribed me with mine, huh?” he said, fiddling with something beneath his uniform shirt.

“He wanted command of the Alamo so bad he was willing to share his secret with me to get part of a command. He was supposed to give mine to Steve Austin, back in in Louisiana last August but they missed each other. Who knows what that Cajun witch had planned for them, but…”

Bowie let out another long, almost manic laugh, “Now look at me! This young fella must have been in charge of the detail burning bodies. One minute I was in bed holding a pistol in my hand, Mexicans comin’ over the walls, and the next… I’m standing in the middle of the plaza staring at a pile of burning bodies. I look down and see myself lyin’ there, head half blown off, smoldering on a heap of burning corpses…”

He paused for a moment, eyes staring off in the distance before coming back to himself with a grin. “You know, it’s something else being in a young body again,” he said, slapping his chest with a sharp whack! “I was forty years old and all stove up yesterday, and now I’m probably eighteen, maybe nineteen years old, right? I feel like a fuckin’ god in this young body! I wish I’d known how good it felt to be young the first time around!” he said with another mean laugh.

“Well, sir, in the end, mister Travis did figure out that the eternal life the Louisiana witch meant was, well…” Sam nodded toward Bowie in his new embodiment.

“That’s right, Sam. The amulet holds souls in it until the next body puts it on, and then, blam!” Bowie held his free hand up, arm extended into the air, fingers splayed. After a dramatic pause, he lowered his hand, holding it out to Sam. “Now toss Travis over to me.”

Sam began lowering one hand when Bowie called out, “And don’t you think of reaching for that sidearm there,” waving his own pistol at the holstered flintlock at Sam’s side. “Your black ass ain’t never been any good at shooting, anyways, so don’t get any clever ideas.”

Sam eased a hand into his pocket and took out the amulet. It occurred to him all the bad Bowie might be able to do once he had it, all the lives he could live or take with two of these cursed little monsters.

“Toss it here, now,” he called a little louder, seeing Sam’s hesitation. “I promise no harm’ll come to you.”

But Sam knew better. Knew that this young Bowie was just as likely to shoot him right here out of pure meanness or sell him off once they got back to the U.S. Either option wasn’t any too appealing.

Sam tossed the amulet over to his “old” master who reached out to catch it as it fell slightly short. Taking advantage, Sam drew a pistol and raised it to fire, but the more experienced Bowie was far faster—especially in this youthful new body! He let the amulet arc to the ground as he refocused his sights and pulled the trigger, aiming for Sam’s face. There was an unexpected fizz! as the hammer dropped and the powder in the pistol burned unevenly, causing a slight delay in the discharge, one just long enough for Sam to duck to one knee before the end of young-Bowie’s barrel blossomed fire and sparks. It spit a lead round that whizzed harmlessly over Sam’s head.

Sam raised his pistol again, sure he had the drop on his old master, but the young man gritted his teeth and hurled the spent gun at Sam who crossed his arms over his head as he ducked the hunk of hot gunmetal and brass. By the time he looked back up, Bowie was on top of him, using his newfound speed and extensive experience as a brawler to grab Sam around the neck while reaching for the second pistol in his holster.

But young James Bowie miscalculated his advantage.

The old James Bowie had several inches of height and thirty pounds of brawn on Sam, who was shorter and slender of build. He came at Sam as if he were fighting with the same height and girth he’d always known himself to have—but this young James Bowie was slighter of build, and had never lifted much more than schoolbooks or a riding crop prior to his commission as a lieutenant in the Mexican army, a position purchased by the former soul’s parents. Sam had a grown-man’s muscles and was accustomed to heavy farm work, so as soon as he realized young Bowie was reaching for his second pistol, he shoved his free arm between the boy’s legs and heaved him backwards over his shoulder. Bowie hit the ground flat on his back, gasping for the air that was knocked clean out of his lungs.

Sam backed away and pointed the pistol at the boy on the ground. “That’ll be enough—” he started, but the young Bowie flipped over, gasping for air, and pulled a broad-bladed knife from his belt, one of his old master’s famed

“Bowie knives.” He looked up, teeth gritted, and charged…

Sam pulled the trigger and sent a lead ball whistling through Bowie’s throat, the round ricocheting off his spine and exiting at an angle through the side of his neck. Bowie, wearing a white infantry officer’s uniform and looking like a skinny, blond-headed Mexican youth, staggered backward, grabbing his throat. He tried to say something, but his mouth worked without any sound coming forth. He fell backward, wide eyed, mouth still working. Sam watched as he lay there, blood bubbling from his mouth and the hole in his throat. A bit of white shot-wadding that had followed the lead ball poked out of the hole in this throat, bloodied, but flapping in the air that never reached Bowie’s lungs. After a moment, the flapping stopped, and Bowie lay there, wide-eyed, as if in surprised wonder.

Sam watched his old master, looking like a pale youth, lie in the grass until he was certain the light had gone from his eyes. He knelt and took the broad-bladed knife from the boy’s clenched fist and tucked it into his belt. He then unbuttoned the boy’s shirt and took the amulet from around his neck. Standing, he searched the ground until he found the other jade amulet. He held them both up to the fading light of the setting sun by their braided leather cords and stared at their ethereal, green glow. He slid both amulets back into his pocket and turned to the south. He knew he wasn’t going back to Louisiana, like Travis had begged him, to return his amulet to the Cajun witch he expected would revive him.

No, Sam knew the riches Travis promised were, as always, a fantasy of his heart’s obsession, the same lie he told to all the settlers who came to Mexican Texas to garner the riches of the land off the backs of slaves. No—Sam knew better than to trust such promises.The one good thing that Marse Bowie had given him was all the practice speaking Spanish. Bowie was fluent, and he insisted his body servant, among other things, be fluent, as well. Sam wouldn’t be going to Louisiana, or anywhere else in the U.S. for the time being. No, he decided he was going to remain a free man down in Mexico City, where he’d figure out what to do with the pair of pistols, Bowie knife, and two lost souls he carried in his front pocket.