Chapter 1

I woke up to the rattle of gunfire. Dammit, I thought I left that when I was rotated home from Iraq. Wait ... a ... minute! What's going on? Where are my clothes? How did I wind up here at the bottom of a grass-covered slope? Where's my car?

The last thing I remember was driving into that fog bank that should never have been there. Fog doesn't form around here! The last I remember, I was tooling along I-10 at around 75 MPH with the sky as clear as you could ever hope to see. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a ring of fog that was so close to my car that I could not hope to slow to a stop before I ran into it. Well, I did manage to drop to about 40 MPH before I actually touched the fog, but that is the last thing that I remember.

Now I am naked, in Southern New Mexico, and hearing gunfire. I was headed for Las Cruces, for whatever that is worth. There was to be a big "cowboy shootout" meeting there, and I was hoping to join in on the fun. I was a Marine sniper in Iraq, but my love has always been handguns. I was particularly partial to the S&W Schofield; that .45 caliber slug would put a real dent in anything it hit, even with black powder as propellent. I liked the way it was designed for one-hand reloading, though the earlier version in .44-40 was just as good as a stopper, plus there was a Winchester also chambered for it.

Anyway, this was not getting me anywhere, and I could start to cook pretty soon in this damned sun if I didn't find some clothes or some shade. I started up the slope, hoping to see what the shooting was all about. If there was that much shooting then there should be a lot of people around. I finally reached the top of the slope and could see over it to where the shooting was coming from.

Ah, a movie is being shot. Certainly I should find help there once they finish with the filming. The action is about a mile away, so I can't see what is going on very well. I can't see a film crew, but I can sure see a bunch of Indians riding horses in a circle around a wagon train. They are shooting at the train, and those people are shooting back. Somebody, probably the director, is a stickler for accuracy because they are firing black powder instead of the standard smokeless powder of the average movie. There sure is a lot of powder smoke around the wagons; it's a wonder that they can see what they are shooting at. Oh, hell, it's just a movie—they're not shooting at anything, they're just shooting for scenic effect.

Somebody on a horse just took a serious tumble. It was a lot more true to life than the average shot horse in a movie. I wonder how they did that? The way the rider flopped when he hit the ground, I would swear that his neck was broken. It certainly was more realistic than I ever expected to see in a movie shoot.

I broke into a jog as I ran toward the movie set. I couldn't go too fast with my cock and balls flopping in the breeze the way they were. It was going to take me a good 20 minutes to get to the set, but I did want something to use for pants before I got there. There were bound to be women around, and I didn't like to flaunt my equipment before I even met a woman.

I noticed something else strange as I approached the movie set: I still could not see the camera crew. They're the ones I will have to look to for help, but I can't find them. Oh, well, they'll show up when I get close enough.

Hey, one of the riders has seen me. He's turned in my direction and is riding this way. I wonder if he thinks that I am one of the actors. If so, this must be an R-rated movie to have naked men running around. On the other hand, maybe he is riding to stop me before I get too close and ruin the shot. I guess the smart thing would be for me to halt here and let him come to me.

Boy, that is some makeup and costuming job. He looks like an authentic Comanche if I ever saw one. What the shit! "HEY, BUDDY! POINT THAT GUN SOMEWHERE ELSE! YOU COULD DO ME A SERIOUS INJURY, EVEN IF IT IS LOADED WITH BLANKS!" That son of a bitch fired at me! Hey, that was no blank! I've been shot at often enough to know when a bullet whizzes by me. Why is he shooting live ammunition?

The idiot cocked what looked like a Spencer carbine and aimed at me again. He was so close for that first shot that it was only the bouncing of the horse that kept him from hitting me, and this one was going to be at point blank range. Nobody could miss at this range, so I had only one chance—I leaped at the horse. That was something that caught the horse completely by surprise. Just as the fool pulled the trigger, the horse jumped to one side, and that put the shot far enough off so that I lived through the experience.

I was so pissed by now that my Marine training took over and my mind took a short vacation. As the sucker on the horse passed me, I jumped and grabbed his rifle barrel. God Damn! That barrel was hot, but I managed to hang on, anyway. The rider did not have stirrups, so he was easy to pull off the horse. He landed on the ground on his back in a very dazed condition. I dropped on him with all my weight on my knee right into his solar plexus. He was not going to be doing any fighting for a good five minutes or more.

The horse had stopped running as soon as the man was no longer on his back, so I had no trouble catching him. I was still pissed, so I pulled off the blanket that the man had been using as a cover for his riding pad and wrapped it around my waist.

I had dropped the Spencer when I went after the horse, and I was still tying the blanket around me when I heard a sound behind me. The bastard was trying to stick a knife in my kidney. OK, no longer Mr. Nice Guy! I knocked the knife aside with my left hand and hit the attacker in the throat with the edge of my right hand. The blow did just exactly what it was supposed to do; namely, it crushed his wind pipe. He was going to suffocate within a couple of minutes if I did nothing to help him, and I was so pissed that I just stood there and watched him die!

The guy had recovered a lot faster than I had expected from the knee in the solar plexus. Furthermore, I wonder why he tried to knife me instead of shooting me with the Spencer which was lying not far away from him. Who knows? But I sure as hell am glad that it played out the way it did.

Now that I had a little peace and quiet, I decided to use the knife to convert the blanket into a loin cloth, which would feel a lot more secure than the blanket. When that was done, it dawned on me to turn my attention to the Spencer. It seemed to contain four rounds, and there were some loose cartridges in a pouch at the dead attacker's waste. I brought the magazine up to the seven-round limit and took another look at the movie set.

Shit! This was no movie set! Now that I got a better look from closer in, I could see that real bullets were flying back and forth across the battlefield. I wasn't sure what was going on, but I was damned certain that these people were trying to kill each other!

Now what was I going to do? This was now apparently a case of Comanches attacking a wagon train. From the looks of the wagons, this was an all-freight operation, so there were no women and children to be concerned with. Well, from what I knew about old-time Comanches, the wagon train crew could not expect anything good from the Indians. Therefore, I decided to do what I could to help the Whites against the Indians.

My assets consisted of a Spencer carbine of dubious quality and 29 rounds. I also had a knife, but I hoped that I would not have to use it. The horse was of no value to me because I did not have a chance of riding it without a full saddle with stirrups. My real value lay in my training and experience as a sniper. I did know that the quickest way to break up the ordinary Indian attack was to disable the war chief, so that was what I set out to do.

The war chief was easy to spot. He was back behind the circling riders directing the attack. I was within reasonable range for the Spencer from my current location, about 230 yards. The Spencer was certainly nothing in comparison with my issue sniper rifle with its telescopic sight, but I was going to give the thing a try.

I lay down on the ground to get the steadiest position I could manage. I missed a rifle sling to help me lock into position, but I hoped that the range was short enough that I would not have a problem with that. The war chief was facing about 50° away from me, so I did not have as wide a target as I wished, but it should be adequate. I was going for a chest shot. In more technical terms, I was aiming at his center of mass.

The iron sights on the Spencer were never designed for a sniper, but I hoped for the best as I lined up my shot. There was already a cartridge in the chamber, so all I had to do to be ready for a shot was to pull the hammer back to full cock and to pull the trigger. I pulled the hammer from half to full cock, took a deep breath, let it out, took another one, and let half of it out. I already had the carbine aimed at the war chief, so all I had to do was to pull the trigger.

Even with the slow muzzle velocity of the Spencer bullet, it traveled the 230 yards before the target had a chance to move. I did it! The bullet caught the war chief in the chest just to the left of his breast bone and about even with his nipple. The Spencer bullet was large enough and heavy enough that it did tremendous damage, and the war chief was probably dead before he hit the ground.

As soon as I saw the man fall, I was up and running to a new location. I was bent over, but I was still able to run pretty fast, so I was gone before the smoke did much to mark my position. That was my main complaint with black powder—it gave your position away too easily.

This was a relatively small war party, so they had only one war chief. I expected the attack to break off until the Comanches had elected a new leader. With that thought in mind, I headed toward the wagons. By the time I got close enough to make myself known, the Indians had retreated, so I dropped the Spencer and stood up with my hands in the air, yelling that I was a friend and wanted to approach the wagons.

After a few seconds, a voice from the wagons called me in. I picked up the Spencer and trotted toward the wagons. I was met by several men who were suspicious, but were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. However, they still kept their Henrys and Winchesters handy in case I turned hostile.

"Hello, Gentlemen. Let me introduce myself. My name is Jeff Huston, and I was headed toward Las Cruces before I ran into some trouble. I hope that you will be willing to help me."

"Howdy, Mr. Huston, I'm Abe Jackson. I'm the wagon master of this here train. Are ya the one what shot the war chief?"

"Yes, Mr. Jackson, I am. Please call me Jeff. I have had considerable military training in long distance sharp shooting, so I felt that I should do what I could to help you gentlemen out of what looked to me like a tight spot."

"Yep, Jeff, ya done us a mighty big favor. I do wonder why ya're using that there worn out Spencer ifen ya are a sharpshooter."

"That was part of my problem. I had an accident and lost all of my belongings, including my clothes and my weapons. One of the Comanches attacked me, so I had to kill him. That's where I got the Spencer and this knife. My loin cloth was made from his horse's blanket. I was hoping that you gentlemen would lend me some clothes and weapons. I would also like to travel with you until we get to some form of civilization."

"Hell, yes, ya're welcome ta travel with us. A man what kin shoot like ya kin is always welcome on my train. I see the Comanches ridin' off, so we got a little time ta git ya fitted out in some decent clothes."

Mr. Jackson led me to the chuck wagon and pointed to a bin of used clothing. "See ifen ya kin find what ya need amongst them things. Ifen nothin' there suits ya, we'll see what we kin find from the men."

"Thank you, Mr. Jackson. I'm much obliged to you for your courtesy."

"Think nothin' of it. We'd probably still be fightin' ifen ya hadn't come along, soz I figure we owe it ta ya. When ya're properly dressed, hunt me down an' we'll find ya a decent rifle."

I dug through the old clothes until I found pants and a shirt that were not too bad a fit. I even found a belt, so I didn't have to resort to a rope for that. I left on the loin cloth, since I was used to wearing jockey shorts. I even found a hat. It wasn't much, but it would protect my head from the scorching sun. There were no boots in the chest, but I did find some moccasins, so I had something to protect my feet. It was obvious that I needed a job pretty damned soon to pay for the stuff I had to have in the era I was sure I had been dumped into.

I had spent almost 40 minutes getting my clothes, so I set out to find Mr. Jackson. He was talking to someone about moving on about three miles to a better place to camp. As soon as that conversation was over, the other man started getting the wagons back in motion, and Jackson turned to me. "Well, Jeff, ya looks more like a White man, now. But ya'll be needin' a better rifle ifen ya're gonna work fer me. I gots a spare .44-40 Winchester ya kin use ifen ya think that ya would be comfortable with it."

"Thanks, Mr. Jackson. I do appreciate your kindness. That rifle would be fine. Did I understand correctly that you were hiring me for your wagon train crew?"

"Yep, Jeff, ya sure did. With the way the Injuns is actin' since Custer was killed a few months ago, I need all of the good shooters that I kin find. In fact, I'd like fer ya ta consider stayin' on. Lately, we've been hit at least once every trip by Injuns, an' sometimes we've been hit more often than that. It looks like 1877 is gonna be a rough year fer all of us Whites. Are ya willin' ta join us?"

"I sure am. But I would like to know what the pay is. I need to earn some money to buy some decent boots and other clothes."

"All of my men gits $50 a month and found (food and shelter). As far as I am concerned, ya started ta work fer me this morning. When we gits ta town, I'll advance ya a month's wages soz ya kin git yer boots an' such."

"Thank you, Mr. Jackson. I do appreciate your kindness. That $50 a month is a hell of a lot of money. I hope that I can earn it."

"Don't worry, you will. 'Specially ifen the Apaches take ta the warpath. I normally make runs from El Paso to Yuma, so we could see Apaches, Navaho, and Yaqui, besides them Comanches ya just saved us from. Yessir, Jeff, 1877 could be an excitin' year!"

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Historical / Violent /