Writing “Mungo Snead’s Last Stand”
by Robert E Waters
On January 22 and 23, 1879, as part of the Anglo-Zulu Wars of South Africa, a force of roughly 4,000 Zulu warriors attacked a small trading post (known as Rorke’s Drift) which was defended by no more than 150 British soldiers. The British had just been roundly defeated at Isandlwana earlier in the day. It looked as if the same thing would happen here as well. But on the 23rd, when the dust settled, the defenders of the trading post had held, and the Zulus finally abandoned their attack and slipped away. It was one of those odd instances in military history where in the midst of defeat (Isandlwana), the just-vanquished held firm in another place and saved the day. I’ve often wondered over the years what might have happened to the British forces in that war if Rorke’s Drift had ended badly for them. Probably nothing, as the British were much too powerful to be vanquished entirely. But it would have made things very, very interesting.
Rorke’s Drift was the basis for my story “Mungo Snead’s Last Stand”. I had just written my first novel, a weird Wild West adventure called The Wayward Eight: A Contract to Dir For, set in the tabletop gaming universe of Wild West Exodus. In addition, I had been thinking about writing a story wherein a gila monster-like alien takes on the moniker of a famous gunslinger (Jonny Ringo or Billy the Kid), and sets off into the Rockies in search of a kidnapped female from his family’s clutch (and someday I hope to write that story). But when Danielle Ackley McPhail invited me to The Weird Wild West Anthology, my thoughts went directly to Rorke’s Drift. I wanted to write a tale that had enough background substance, enough “meat” as it were, so that perhaps I could come back later and populate that world with more stories. I also started thinking that, in all my time reading speculative fiction, rarely had I come across any stories of alien invasion during the late 19th century (War of the Worlds notwithstanding). The best alien invasion stories always seem to come in the 20th Century. So, why not combine my love for alien invasion epics with my love of military history?
The late 1800’s is also an interesting time in America’s history, because it’s that moment where the Union had just come off a victory in the Civil War, but the land west of the Mississippi was still relatively untamed (we were still growing as a nation). So I asked myself, what would happen if an alien invasion occurred in this time? What would America do? How would it react? What 19th century army could possibly stand against an alien force that, by virtue of the fact that it was capable of reaching earth, would undoubtedly have technologies far superior to our own? How could we survive? And the only thing I could think of is numbers. If the invasion force was relatively small and for whatever reason, had petered out over time, then perhaps they could in the end be overwhelmed by numbers, just like the British were overwhelmed sometimes against the Zulus. Thus, in my alternate world of “Mungo Snead’…”, to off-set superior alien firepower and technology, America gives control of the land west of the Mississippi to various European powers, thereby increasing the number of soldiers and military assets in the field, numbers that they cannot contribute themselves. In addition, it was also necessary to play on various Wild West tropes. My alien invaders, the Killajunkur, ally themselves with Arapaho and Pawnee tribes, and begin to model themselves after their cultural traditions. I also wanted to play on the idea of rugged, frontiers people, living on the edge, having to eek out a hard-scrabble life in the shadow of great mountains and mighty rivers. And finally, I wanted to have a hero, Mungo Snead, that represented your classic Wild West hero, a man of honor and great standing, but one who is not afraid to sacrifice himself for those he has sworn to protect.
Hopefully, I’ve succeeded.
an excerpt from Mungo Snead’s Last Stand
by Robert E. Waters,
from The Weird Wild West, edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw
June 18, 1885, Fort Henderson,
South Platte River, Colorado Territory
Captain Remington Alexander “Mungo” Snead peered through his binoculars toward the amassing Killajunkur horde. There was no other way to describe it, set against the backdrop of a rising orange sun and steam floating off the surrounding valley grass. To him the Killajunkur appeared as tiny specks, a jumble of blue and green and red Scalies preparing for war. Behind him, Corporal Seamus Johns cursed their bad luck and stabbed scorpions with an antique Highland dirk.
“This is what I’m going to do to them sons of bitches if they get close, Captain,” the corporal said, slicing through the creature’s tough, black carapace with a swift crunching sound.
“You better have something more than a knife, Corporal,” Mungo said, adjusting the intensity of his binoculars to get a better view of the tall Scalie inspecting the enemy ranks. “The Killajunkur wear armour.”
Corporal Johns huffed. “As if that’ll keep them safe from a blaster.”
“Aye.” Mungo nodded. “But we don’t have many; only two crates. And they have more…many, many more.”
The corporal laughed, something he did regularly. This time, though, he sounded afraid. He should be.
“Don’t you fret, Captain. The major will keep us safe from that murderous alien beast. And the 10th Royal Guard is still out there somewhere.”
The “murderous beast” Corporal Johns spoke of towered over the ranks of his Scalie spearmen by a good two feet. Mungo adjusted the right lens of his binoculars and focused in on the scores of eagle and hawk feathers that hung proudly from Arjukadembo’s prominent horns running from the crest of his skull to the small of his back. One feather for every victory against Her Majesty’s Royal North American Legion. Which one represented the Pawnee Creek Massacre, he wondered. From this distance, he could not distinguish one feather from another. And did that feather carry the blood of the innocent women and children left slaughtered and face down in the red water?
Mungo let go of his binoculars, left them hanging from his neck on a thin cord of buffalo hide, knelt, and prayed. He prayed silently, for he could not let the men see his fear. Men and a few women serving the hospital, a handful of survivors from Pawnee Creek, a dozen missionaries who foolishly entered the territory with no survival plan save for their faith and Bibles, elements from the 7th British Expeditionary Force, and Fort Henderson’s own small garrison. Maybe a hundred and sixty, a hundred seventy souls. Barely a fighting force. Corporal Johns’ words rang in Mungo’s mind. The Major will keep us safe from those…
Mungo turned and saw Sergeant Williams saluting. The young man’s tortured face told the captain everything he needed to know. “The Major will see you now, sir.”
Mungo nodded and followed the sergeant off the ramparts and into the tiny building where Major John Willoughby lay dying on a bloody, sweat-soaked cot.
“Come here, you bastard,” Quick-Shot Willoughby said, through gooey phlegm and the smoke of a blunt cigar wedged between his crooked teeth. The doctor had tried to keep tobacco away from the grumpy fool, but no one dared tell the major not to smoke.
Mungo respectfully removed his helmet and knelt beside the bed. The major placed his shaking hand on Mungo’s shoulder. “Tell me one thing, Captain. Did I do good?”
Once word of Pawnee Creek had reached Fort Henderson, the major had decided to scout the enemy advance on his own, despite Mungo’s stern objection. He managed to return with a few of his men, though barely, receiving a point-blank gut shot from a Killajunkur blaster. He’d lost too much blood. He was severely dehydrated, and the wound was infected beyond medicine and God.
Mungo nodded. “Yes, major. You brought two blaster cases back. Primed and ready.”
“Very well.” The old man coughed. A trickle of blood ran down his mouth. “You have to promise me, Captain. No retreat. Promise me that.”
“Sir.” Mungo leaned in to whisper his next words so that those standing nearby could not hear. “The Scalies number in the thousands. Arjukadembo is leading the attack. We have but a handful of trained fighting men. We cannot stand. We must abandon this post, fall back, and—”
“No!” Major Willoughby’s eyes were bloodshot and violent, peering through a crust of yellow gore from the creeping blaster wound that had left him nearly blind. His breath was stagnant, his breathing hectic. He grabbed Mungo’s brass-buttoned red lapel and pulled him closer. “If you fall back, Arjukadembo will sweep down the South Platte, destroying every outpost, every town, from here to Denver. Her Majesty’s empire in America will crumble. You cannot retreat. Promise me that you will stand…and fight.”
Mungo could do nothing but nod.
A withered grin crept across the Major’s ruined face. He laid his head back into the dirty pillow, let out a final sigh, and died.
Mungo left the room, followed closely by Corporal Johns.
“Are you in charge now, Captain?”
Mungo nodded to the corporal. “It would seem so.”
“What are you going to do?”
Before Mungo could answer, a low, howling whistle climbed through the mist. Mungo looked up and saw a flash of green-and-red energy, like a lightning bolt, arc into the morning sky from the Killajunkur position. For a moment, it reminded him of the streaming fireworks he used to enjoy as a child in the streets of London. But this was no pleasant object of celebration. This was an energy spear, tossed into the air from a powerful Scalie arm with a leather atlatl throwing sling, and its message was clear.
He watched it bend through the sky, over the outer wall of Fort Henderson, and strike a wagon in the covered center of the yard. Half the wagon shattered in a cloud of smoke, broken iron, and wood. The other half burned.
When the dust and shock of the strike settled, Mungo approached the spear cautiously. Along its compound steel structure, ropes of green-and-red electricity popped. He waited until its kinetic energy waned. When it did, a small white flag unfurled out of its base and fluttered in the warm breeze.
“What is it, Captain?” Corporal Johns asked.
Mungo tried reading the charcoal scratches on the white flag. Alien words. Killajunkur words.
“He wishes to meet.”
The corporal paused, then said, “What are you going to do?”
Mungo Snead turned and looked back up into the sky, and followed the spear’s contrail down until it disappeared behind the fort’s wall. Major Willoughby’s words raced through his mind—No retreat. Promise me that you will stand…—and the foolish promise that he had made to a dying man.
Mungo turned to Corporal Johns and tried sounding brave. “I will go and face the enemy.”
Robert E Waters has been writing science fiction and fantasy professionally since 2003 with his first publication in Weird Tales, “The Assassin’s Retirement Party.” Robert has also published 30 additional stories in various on-line and print magazines and anthologies, including Eric Flint’s on-line Grantville Gazette, the magazine dedicated to publishing stories set in Baen Book’s 1632/Ring of Fire alternate history series. In 2014, Robert published his first novel, The Wayward Eight: A Contract to Die For, set in the Wild West Exodus gaming universe. Robert lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife Beth, their son Jason, and their cat Buzz. Visit his website as http://www.roberternestwaters.com.
The Weird Wild West
edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw
The untamed frontier is a challenge, a test of character, a proving ground for the soul. It’s a place where pioneers rewrite their future, or end their days…for better or worse. In the spirit of Bret Maverick, Cat Ballou, Kwai Chang Caine, and James West, The Weird Wild West blends western grit with the magical and mysterious unknown that waits beyond the next horizon.
With thrilling stories by Jonathan Maberry, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, John Hartness, RS Belcher, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Misty Massey, James R. Tuck, Robert E. Waters, David Sherman, Tonia Brown, Liz Colter, Scott C. Hungerfold, Frances Rowat, Ken Schrader, Bryan C.P. Steele, Wendy N. Wagner, and a bonus story by New York Times bestselling-author Faith Hunter, you’ve hit the Mother Lode!