What Leif was holding in his right hand had once been Samuel Adams O'Reilly; the tallest and strongest man in Tonkawa Springs!
"Come on inside, Lew. You'd best be sittin' down for this."
The good captain did as instructed. As he entered the caretaker's shack, he saw that Leif had been telling the truth about something else. Doctor George Kramer was indeed present. So, too, was a stranger with a crew-cut and moustache of matching white; a light, buckskin jacket; and the gold-striped blue pants of the U.S. Army.
Out of pure reflex, Lewis aimed his Spencer rifle towards the latter. But, the stranger was just as swift in aiming his shotgun at Lewis!
"Lew!" shouted Kramer: "It's alright! He's on our side. In fact, if not for him, the O'Reillys and I never would've made it back here, alive."
"Still doesn't tell me who he is," growled Lewis.
"The name is Charles Stagg Skinner," replied the older man: "My friends call me 'Buck.' "
"As in, 'Buck' Skinner, the Rogue River Indian-fighter?"
The latter nodded: "The last five years, though, I've been stationed at Fort Union, New Mexico, as a cavalry scout. Under your brother's command."
Lewis gasped: "Clark is here? In town?"
"Yep," replied Leif: "And, that's why I think you should take me up on sittin' down. What happened to Big Sam just might've happened to Clark, too."
* * * * *
Where Lewis had fought for the Confederacy, out of a general sense of states' rights patriotism, Clark had stood by the Union. And, as he had been stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco when the Civil War broke out, he had been part of the California Column that had been sent into Arizona and New Mexico to protect the gold mining interests in those territories from the secessionist forces under Confederate Gen. Sibley, from Texas.
After Sibley's withdrawal, the California Column spent the remainder of the war dealing with the Chiricauha Apaches led by the great Cochise. And, in between skirmishes with them, Clark would write letters to his childhood sweetheart back home. Letters that he knew would never get through until after the war's end, when he could personally hand them over to Miss Lauren Findlay, herself.
"He finally managed to do that around May Day. Him and his cavalry troop come ridin' into Tonkawa Springs, big as life. And, the first thing he did, after dismountin' from his horse, was head right on over to Findlay's Dry Goods. Lauren was right behind the cash register when he entered. But, I swear, she all but flew over the counter top when she laid eyes on him! And, her pa had to half-seriously threaten 'em with a bucketful of water from the horse trough if they didn't ease up on the kissin'!"
Lewis smiled. He had used to tease Clark about all the time he and Lauren had spent under the mistletoe, that last Christmas before their departure to Missouri. It had partly been out of jealousy, of course. Even at age eleven, Luther Findlay's only daughter had been a heart-breaker!
But, it had been obvious, right from the start, that Clark and Lauren only had eyes for each other.
"He proposed to her, right there, in front of all her pa's customers. And, sure enough, she said 'yes!' They set the weddin' date for yesterday. And, it was a right beautiful ceremony...up until the preacher reached the part about anyone havin' objections. That's when all hell broke loose!"
A small army of raiders hit the town, from two different directions at once. With most of the raiders appearing to be white men.
"But, they was dressed really strange. Breechclouts and thigh-high moccasins, like Apaches. Only, with vests and headdresses made out of jaguar hides, as well! That didn't stop Clark, though. He immediately ran outside to rally his troop! Unfortunately, those raiders was just a diversion."
While the town's people were watching the battle from one set of stained glass windows, there came the sound of breaking glass from the other side of the church.
"We all turned around and---as God's my witness, this is the truth---there was a bunch of black panthers perched atop all the right-hand pews! Spittin' and roarin' to beat the band!"
Having been pre-conditioned by years of Comanche raids into staying armed, during church services, most of the male parishioners immediately went for their handguns. That was when it happened.
"Every single one of them panthers turned into a topless woman! Just like the ones outside, only shorter!! And, we was so shocked, we just froze. Only for a moment, mind you. But, it was long enough for them women to charge forward and...and..."
Leif could not finish the sentence. He took a look at Little Sam, and broke down crying. Burying his face on top of the square table occupying the center of the one-room dwelling.
While Dr. Kramer crouched down to consolingly pat the caretaker's back, Skinner took up the tale.
"The men who had their guns half-drawn were leapt and bitten on, first, as if they were bein' attacked by rabid bobcats. And, every man that got bit started to shrink like over-dried wetwash! While the women biting 'em started to grow taller and taller!!"
That had done it. All the church-goers ran outside. As being hit by stray bullets, there, could not possibly pose a greater danger than the devilish evil being done inside!
"Only trouble was, there were more of them females waiting just outside the front doors. And, when they weren't shrinking the men-folk, they were making off with all the young women-folk. Lauren, included."
Skinner could not honestly recall how he, the O'Reillys, and Dr. Kramer had made it to Leif's buckboard unscathed. He only knew that they had.
"Leif whipped his team into a frenzy. Yet, those half-giant Amazons ran after us, bare-foot, all the way. Just barely out-distanced by us! We had just enough time to barricade the door, and load up these shotguns as well as my Henry, before we heard the horses scream like banshees."
Skinner had thought their pursuers were killing the horses. But, it was a mixed blessing, to say the least, to see that the viragos were interested only in the four men. Letting the team run off in fright, after smashing the buckboard into kindling.
"We've been here, ever since. Listening to them over-grown she-devils doing...Lord knows what to the men in town, all last night. And, then, finally having them attack us this morning."
Lewis looked at the doll-sized figure of Sam O'Reilly and asked how he had been shrunk.
"One of them she-devils either bit or scratched him on the left cheek of his butt. And, it appears as if that's the slower way they have of doing it. Because, up until an hour ago, he was still as big as a two-year old!"