Strange Drinks at the Petestown SaloonWhen Sheriff McGrady insisted on swearing me in as a Deputy, I should've listened to the part of me that said to run. If I had, I wouldn't be here now, waiting to die. But he'd made good and sure I wasn't in any shape to run then, and now it's too late.
Thing is, it all started innocent enough. I rode into Dry Rock on Friday afternoon, ready fer a break from punchin' cows and watching for Zerling raiders. All I was after was a drink or two at the saloon and a decent meal at the hotel, a change from the rattlesnake and beans I'd been livin' on.
But Sheriff, he's too clever for me. He come into the saloon and found me, and he bought me those drinks himself. By the time I'd wrapped myself around a couple of glasses of that weird stuff Longdrink Logan stole from the wreck of that Zerling ship, I hardly knew what either of us was saying. That was when he asked me, and I said yes. Or so he tells me. Me, I don't remember nothin'.
I ought to know better than to drink that stuff. Zerling drinks do strange things to humans. Some folks seem to like it. I don't usually mess with that stuff, but McGrady was buying, an' I reckon I'm an idiot.
So. He asked me to be his deputy, help him out a bit with the Zerling problem. I'd fought Injuns, bad cattle, and the weather. I figured this wouldn't be no different. I would strap on my six-shooter, oil my rifle, and head back to the range, go on doin' what I do anyhow, only mebbe get a little extra pay.
But next morning, or maybe more like along toward noon when I pulled my shattered head together enough to crawl down from the loft at the livery stable and ride, McGrady stopped me in the act of mountin' old Paint and reminded me I'd took on a new job. Then he told me what that job was.
Well, you can call me a fool. I sure as heck did, for all the good it did me. But Sheriff said I'd agreed and sworn the oath, and Longdrink backed him up. So I didn't reckon I had much choice. Then McGrady told me what he wanted me to do, and I figgered it for easy money.
So here I am, pinning down in this pile of rocks east of Petestown, fighting for my life and like to lose it any minute. I reckon I never was cut out for no spy, after all.
See, what McGrady wanted was that I should mosey on over to Petestown, quiet-like, and see what they were up to. Seemed like there was lots of Zerling supplies coming from over yonder, and no reports of attacks like what we fought off near every day. I can see now that he figgered something was up, and I was too slow to see it. Sure, there was a good reason he didn't want to do this himself, curse the old coyote!
I ain't very sneaky, so I just up and rode into town. Oh, I stopped on the hill outside town and looked it over a bit first, but it pretty much looked like always, though there didn't seem to be much goin' on. Petestown's never been much of a place, so that seemed natural enough, and I headed on down. I figgered to get myself a drink and mebbe go say hey to the Law. I mean, us bein' in the same line of business, as I now had to accept. Seemed like sorter the friendly thing to do. Then mebbe I could admire the goods in their mercantile, casual-like, and see what they had to say about it.
Trouble was, it all fell apart from the beginning. I went to the saloon, right enough. It was dim in there, even worse than usual, so I could scarce make out the figure behind the bar. And when I tried to order a shot of whiskey, the barkeep shook his head.
"We don't serve that stuff here, Stranger."
That took me sorter by surprise, it bein' a saloon and all. I looked around, my eyes adjusted enough now to the dim to see the usual saloon stuff, a big bar and a few tables, the spittoon in the corner.
"Zerling waskina or Vexalian vorgelisk. Your choice." His voice didn't sound friendly at all.
Me, never heard of Vexalians or vorgelisk, but I knew what the Zerling waskina had done to me, and I wanted nothing more to do with any of them alien drinks. If that was all he had, I said I'd go on out and get a dipperful of water to cut the dust from my throat, and turned for the door.
I didn't get even a step before that barkeep laid a hand on my shoulder and said, "I wouldn't take that attitude, Stranger." Only, it wasn't a hand. It felt more like a tentacle, and when I looked at him again I learned a few things in a hurry. My eyes had grown all too accustomed to the gloom.
Right off, I learnt that I was a lousy spy. My cover was well and surely blown. I wasn't going to learn nothin' more there. And I learned what a Vexalian was. I figured I didn't need to do no more spying here, so I broke and run for my horse.
My horse was gone. Only the saddle, bridle, and horseshoes remained, in a little pile as though the horse had just sorta vanished from the middle of it all. I took that in without hardly slowing, and kept right on for the border. I made it to this god-forsaken clump of rocks and cactus about two jumps ahead of a whole townful of Zerlings and Vexalians, and not one human. I didn't hear no bullets whizzing by my head, which I'm at least used to. They were firing something that made strange buzzing noises, and I thought about my horse and learned to dodge in a hurry.
They're still out there, watching and waiting, and now and again melting one of the rocks that hides me from them. It's only a matter of time.
I don't know what became of the folks who lived in Petestown. Mebbe they're all dead and eaten. And I wish I didn't keep thinking that mebbe they've been turned into the things that are trying to kill me. Mebbe that's what Vexalians are, folks who used to be humans. I hope it ain't the drink that changes them, since we've been drinkin' it over to Dry Rock, too, but I don't reckon I'll be around long enough to find out.
I've been pinned down here now for most of a day, in the blazing sun. I've got no canteen, nor nothin' to eat, and I don't think I'm gonna make it. I'm writing this in hopes that whatever happens to me, somehow this might make it back to Sheriff McGrady, if it ain't already too late for our town.
If it ain't, I hope McGrady has fun trying to do anything about the Zerling problem, the curly-tailed side-winder. Because I may be a dead man, but I'm thinkin' that might be better than what he's lookin' at.