by Starsky Hutch 76
“Hey, you’re listening to Doc and Beaner in the morning on 94.5 FM, WGBS Radio. We’re sitting here discussing what the cause for all these feathered guests in our city.”
“That’s right, Beaner. Ornithologists are now attributing it to the unseasonable heat that’s hit our fair city.”
“So what you’re saying, Doc, is that instead of flying south, they flew here.”
“Yes, that’s basically it.”
“That doesn’t explain the buzzard I saw perched on my back porch.”
“I’d attribute that to your breath. Please, find yourself a mint or some gum or something!”
Clark Kent switched off the radio morning show so he could continue his drive to work in peace. Driving itself was something he had to get used to. When he had lived downtown, he could simply fly to his office and pretend he had taken the subway or bus to work. Now, he had to go through the actual motions of commuting from time to time for the benefits of the coworkers who also lived in the suburbs. There had even been a few times in which he had carried his car to work just to drive it in for the last mile. Today seemed to be a slow day, emergency-wise, so he decided this would be a good time for Clark Kent to be seen making the commute.
On the way to the train station, he marveled at how quiet the streets were. They seemed unusually still for this time of day. It wasn’t rush hour, since he no longer had to keep those kinds of hours thanks to his freelance status. But it was close enough for him to expect a little traffic.
He stopped at a red light and did a double-take as a ball of tumbleweed blew past. Tumbleweed? In Metropolis?
Parking his car outside the station, Clark took the steps down to the subway. After showing his pass, he stepped on board the subway car, took his seat, and opened his copy of USA Today. He was familiar with most of the news in the world, given both his job as a reporter and his other occupation, but he still liked to see what the other papers were reporting.
He was alarmed by the sudden sensations of the seat beneath him changing shape and then a gust of breeze blowing around him. The rushing wind quickly snatched the paper from his hands, and Clark discovered that the subway had been transformed into a line of runaway mine cars.
The passengers, horrified to find themselves suddenly transported from a twentieth-century subway to a nineteenth-century mine train, screamed in terror as they careened down the railway. Their panic was such that few of them noticed their own clothes had also been changed to that of the same era.
Clark Kent noticed the change, however, as he flew out of his mine car and did a super-speed change. Superman folded the period costume and placed it in the hidden pocket of his cape before flying back to rescue the other passengers.
Superman’s uniform had also been transformed. A military shell jacket and jodhpurs had replaced the tights. The cape was of an old-fashioned cut as well, joined together with a piece of rope.
He flew them out of the transformed subway one by one, exiting what had now become a mineshaft. As soon as the last one was rescued, he did a quick change back into his now-old-fashioned suit and glasses and mixed in with the stunned group who stared at what was now a very-different-looking Metropolis.
The road beneath his feet was now dirt, rather than pavement. The steel and mortar of the buildings were now wood and shingles. Cars had become wagons or even horses. Buses were stagecoaches. The city now had the look of an Old West town on steroids. Someone was changing Metropolis. The only person he knew of who might want to do something quite like this, though, was dead.
“How yuh like muh handiwork?” a voice suddenly said. The crowd turned and looked in the direction of the speaker. “Y’all best get. This is between me an’ four-eyes, there.”
As the speaker strolled forward, they heard the clinking of spurs. His duster flared behind him in the breeze. “Whut’s the matter, Kent? Yuh look like yuh seen a ghost.”
“You’re no ghost,” Clark Kent said. “The real Toby Manning died a hero. You’re his doppelgänger from that magic-based universe.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Terra Times Two,” Superman #377 (November, 1982).]
“I’m as real as he wuz,” Tex Arcana bellowed. He looked at the passengers who stood with their jaws hanging. “I thought ah said git!” He pulled out his revolvers and fired toward their feet.
Little balls of flame issued from his revolvers and flew toward the ground they stood upon. Every one of them screamed and ran as far their feet could take them.
“Dang fools just standin’ around like a bunch o’ idjits,” he muttered, giving his pistols a twirl and then holstering them. “Now where wuz we?”
“I believe I was about to take out the trash,” Superman said menacingly.
“Not dressed like that, you ain’t,” Tex Arcana said. He swung his lasso out, and it passed over Superman. “I learnt this from watchin’ Wonder Witch back in my neck o’ the woods.”
As the lasso moved over Superman, he began to transform. First, his wire-rimmed glasses disappeared, and his pomaded hair became full with a spit curl. Then his great coat became the cape and uniform jacket sporting the S-symbol. Finally, the jodhpurs and boots replaced his suit pants and shoes. He felt something hanging from his neck by a drawstring and saw it was a red cowboy hat with an S-symbol. All in all, he now looked like an old serial cowboy hero. All he needed was a Native American sidekick.
“Cute,” Superman smirked. “You’re expecting me to wear this?”
“All I’m gonna be expecting from you is to start pushin’ up daisies,” Tex Arcana said, “fer what you an’ yer do-gooder posse made happen to mah brother.”
A deadly silence passed between the two men. Keeping his cold stare on Superman, Tex Arcana finally broke the silence. “This would be thuh part where I tell ya tuh draw.”
The two men stared at each other from opposite sides of the transformed street, grim determination visible in their eyes. “You can’t make me draw,” Superman said. “I don’t kill.”
“Then yer surely gonna die,” Tex Arcana said.
“I’ll take my chances,” Superman said.
“I ain’t got no problem with shooting ya down like a dog in the street,” Tex Arcana warned him.
“So what are you waiting for?” Superman said without any emotion.
“Ah ain’t ever seen nobody in such a hurry ta die,” Tex Arcana said through gritted teeth. Quick as lightning, Tex’s right hand swung down and grabbed the barrel of one of the two six-shooters at his hips and fired.
If it had been any other gunman, he simply would have stood and let the bullets bounce harmlessly off his chest. Knowing that he was dealing with a magical version of his old foe Terra-Man he adjusted his super-senses accordingly for the rate of its speed and trained his microscopic vision upon the bullet. Once he did, it seemed to slow down as it flew toward him, and he was alarmed to see a mouth with rows of shark-like teeth at the head.
Superman knew that those enchanted fangs would chew into his flesh as easily as any man’s. As much as he was loath to do it, he was forced to turn and fly in the other direction.
“Where ya goin’, ya yella-belly?” Tex Arcana taunted. “I thought you wuz supposed ta be the Man of Steel! Since when is steel afeared of a little bit a’ lead?”
Tex Arcana reached for his lasso. “You ain’t outrunnin’ mah bullet.” He flung out the lasso to try to catch Superman to hold him still for the bullet to reach him, but its intended target poured on the speed and soared through the loop before it could tighten and ensnare him.
“Hellfire,” Tex Arcana cursed. He brought his index fingers up to his mouth and whistled, and a black stallion with enormous, bat-like wings appeared. Its eyes glowed a fierce red. He grabbed the saddle horn, pulled himself up, and gave a sharp kick with his spurs as he shouted, “Hyaah!” to force the steed into hot pursuit.
Superman looked over his shoulder and stared back at the ravenous projectile heading toward him. It deftly avoided blasts of heat-vision as it pursued him, and its form seemed to grow longer as it hurtled after him. A snout began to grow over its fanged mouth. It grew broader and fuller, causing his microscopic-vision to constantly readjust to keep up with its transformation. As it continued to grow and lengthen, several sets of clawed legs appeared on either side of it. It began to resemble a bullet less and less and looked more like a creature of nightmares. Soon, Superman found he didn’t have to use his microscopic vision at all to make out its transformation as it continued to fly toward him, still changing and still growing. It seemed to be picking up speed as well.
“Yuh can’t outrun it forever, hombre,” Tex Arcana laughed. “Every man’s got a bullet somewheres with his name on it, and I think we done found yorn.”
“You’re not the first man to try and take me down, Yosemite,” Superman said, streaking past him. “You damn sure won’t be the last.” The creature was hot on his heels and now the size of a Labrador retriever.
“Whoa!” Tex Arcana bellowed, jerking on the reins of his steed to keep it from colliding with the nightmarish bullet-thing. “That was a close one,” he said, patting the horse on the neck. “Looks like mah boy’s gonna need some help catchin’ him.”
He eased the horse back to the ground and started to reach for the saddlebags when a voice shouted, “Freeze!”
Startled, Tex Arcana looked in the direction of the speaker. From behind the many wagons, both covered and not, he saw Maggie Sawyer and the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit with their guns aimed in his direction. “Step down from the horse, Sundance,” Maggie commanded as she stepped from behind the wagon with her six-shooter trained on him. She wore a cowboy hat and duster similar to his, but her lapel was adorned with a bright silver sheriff’s star.
“Certainly, ma’am,” Tex said, stepping down.
“What’s in the saddle bags, cowboy?” Maggie asked, gesturing with the gun.
“Just supplies, ma’am,” Tex Arcana said. “Thuh essentials. Whiskey, tobacco, vittles.”
“Hard tac, fatback, sourgum…”
“I don’t need your grocery list, Wild Bill!” Maggie said impatiently. “Just throw the saddle bags on the ground, and then get on your knees and put your hands on your head!”
His chin-length mustache twitched in amusement. “Yuh know, I usually like to oblige a purty lady, especially when she asks me to get into interestin’ positions, but me and thuh town vigilante’s got unfinished business.”
“That wasn’t a request,” Maggie Sawyer said grimly, cocking her gun.
There was a sudden crash as the bullet creature caught up with Superman and flung its elongated form around him, sending them both crashing into a strip club that had been transformed into a saloon. The old-fashioned painted sign snapped in two as Superman and the monstrosity impacted between the words Kit Kat and Club and crashed inside.
Tex Arcana used the distraction to reach for the bedroll attached to the saddle and quickly unrolled it, revealing a shotgun. Two officers dived out of the way as he fired into the butcher’s shop window behind them. There was a thunder of hooves as then the storefront suddenly exploded into a shower of splinters and glass as cattle came stampeding outward to fill the streets.
For most modern-day Metropolis citizens, cows were funny — the punchlines of comic strips and cartoons. Now they were learning what the settlers of the Old West knew — that cattle, when panicked into a stampede, could be just as frightening a force of nature as twisters and flash floods. They were discovering this firsthand as the cattle charged out into the crowded streets of confused pedestrians and motorists who had yet to recover from their vehicles suddenly changing into horse-drawn wagons. Elated at the chaos he had created, Tex Arcana raised the fist holding the fist holding the shotgun into the air, threw back his head, and yelled, “Yeee-haaa!”
“Take cover!” Maggie screamed as she dived underneath a wagon to narrowly avoid being trampled as a bull raced past.
Tex Arcana mounted his steed and flicked the reins. “I surely hate to leave such spirited company,” Tex said, tipping his hat to her, “but I feel a sudden urge to head on over to that saloon yonder for a drink.”
The winged stallion flew over the cattle stampede as it sent the period-costumed people of Metropolis scurrying for their lives. “This is startin’ to look like my kinda town,” he guffawed to himself as he watched them. His doppelgänger might have felt some sort of sympathy for them, but he didn’t. Since he felt no magic emanating from them, he had a hard time even thinking of them as truly alive. It was one of the many things he hated about this world.
As he came in for a landing, panicked Metropolis citizens ran in the opposite direction, making way for the frightening steed. The cattle parted as well under the command of his magics.
Tex Arcana stepped over the fallen form of a victim of the stampeding cattle as he made his way toward the saloon doors of the transformed club. The air was filled with the sound of Camptown Races coming from a player piano that used to be the club’s sound system. Strippers, now dressed as bawdy late nineteenth-century showgirls, darted past him trying to escape from the chaos inside. Tex Arcana looked over his shoulder, watching them over his shoulder as they ran. His gaze drifted briefly to his lasso, and then he chuckled to himself and continued inside.
When he stepped out of the hallway and into the main room of the now-deserted club, he was confronted by the sight of Superman struggling with the bullet-beast, which was now well over eight feet in length and wrapped around him like a boa constrictor. They tumbled through the air, crashing through the stage and then back across the room, reducing tables and chairs to kindling.
“Hold him! Hold him still, blast ya!” Tex Arcana bellowed as he struggled to get a clear shot at Superman.
The coils of the bullet-beast grew thicker, stronger, and tighter around Superman. Try as he might, he could not pull the thing off him. The creature gave a twitch of its massive coils, slamming him to the ground. The creature reared back its head, hissing as it prepared to lunge and revealed a set of enormous fangs. Superman threw his hand up, grabbing it just below its jawline to try to hold it off. The creature’s claws tore at his uniform and raked his skin as it tried to pull itself closer.
“That’s it, boy!” Tex Arcana said, smiling viciously as he cocked his gun. “Just like that. All ah need is one good shot.”
Just as Tex Arcana fired, Superman swung the hand holding the head of the mockery of life created by the western-themed wizard and jerked it into the path of the other oncoming bullet.
The smile quickly dropped from Tex Arcana’s face, making his mustache droop. “Aw, hell.”
The explosion that rocked the Kit Kat Club drowned out the noise of the chaos in the streets. It sent glass and wood raining out into the streets, which quickly turned into brick, mortar, and masonry before hitting the pavement.
Maggie Sawyer darted out from under the wagon at the sound of the explosion, and not one second too soon. The lower wheel setting as it turned back into a Volkswagen Beetle would have flattened her. A gasp escaped her lips as the cattle filling the streets faded before her very eyes. She quickly ran down the street to the smoking remains of the Kit Kat Club. “Superman!” she exclaimed. She didn’t think much was capable of killing Superman, but that guy had seemed so confident in his ability to do it that she had even her convinced.
Superman rose out of the wreckage, looking very weary as he dusted himself off. His uniform was back to normal, but torn in several places, revealing the scratches he had received while fighting the creature.
“What happened?!” Maggie exclaimed. “What did this?”
“A bullet,” Superman coughed. “A really big bullet that got hit with another bullet.”
Maggie looked at Superman like she thought he might still be delirious from being caught in the explosion. “Since when can Terra-Man do all this? And I thought he was dead!”
“That wasn’t Terra-Man,” Superman said. “It was Tex Arcana.”
“Hmm. I thought Manning had just changed his look and let his hair grow out. Whatever his name was, I hope we’ve seen the last of him,” Maggie said. “Please tell me we’ve seen the last of him!”
“I scanned the building and didn’t find a body. He could’ve been incinerated in the blast — the creature was basically made of lead and gunpowder, so it’s possible — but when we’re dealing with magic, I just don’t know.”
“Oh, great,” Maggie said. “That’s really going to help me sleep tonight.”
“You and me both,” Superman said. He’d never thought there would come a time in his life when he missed the old Terra-Man.