Author's Note: Hi all! This idea came to me some time ago, but it took a while to iron out. I love watching the Twilight Zone, and it occurred to me that Ross Martin (who plays Artemus Gordon for those that don't know) is in several episodes. I then thought of how fun it would be to put together a Zone and a Wild West, and I came up with this. I tried as hard as possible to make it seem to the reader like they are actually watching the Twilight Zone, complete with Rod Serling monologues and two titles (one a Wild West title, and on a Twilight Zone style title). I was originally going to call this "The Night Twilight Took the Town," but I didn't want to turn people away by making them think that angsty teenage vampires had overrun Wild Wild West. So, enjoy, and reviews are always appreciated!
P. S.- When it's dusty outside, the desert can have abnormally long sunsets, hence the sunset we have below. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own the Twilight Zone or the Wild Wild West (or the Characters involved in them). This is just for fun!
The Night Dusk Took the Town
Artemus Gordon stood in the doorway of a once-splendid ranch, staring out into the dusk as night closed its grip over the dusty, abandoned town. The ranch in which he and James were currently residing was built on a hill overlooking the town. Days ago, the ranch had seemed like a friendly place, lording over the town like a mother hen lords over her brood. But now, Artie could see the ranch for what it really was: a disease ridden, skeleton of a structure that seemed to stalk the buildings below it.
The town below no longer had a name. In fact, it had been a ghost town for so long that most of the buildings had either been cannibalized to repair the ranch or had literally blown away in the gale force winds that had blown off from the desert. The world was hot here; like a blast furnace, and the ground was burned a reddish brown. The single tree that had survived the desolation of the town was dying itself, looking for all the world like a mortally wounded matador, bravely showing its leaves one last time before the last vestiges of life were gone.
The unceasing wind twisted and howled as it spiraled through the last of the structures, making unearthly screams and shrieks. The sky was red as the sun gave way to the night, the reddish dust swirling through the air and glinting like several small droplets of blood. Artie took a deep breath of the stale air; it burned his lungs as it went down. Sighing, he picked up the bucket and walked the quarter mile to the town well. Working quickly, he managed to get up a full bucket of water in less than a half-hour. At least the well hadn't dried up yet! If that had happened, Artie had no doubt that he and Jim would already be dead.
Artie trudged back up the hill, steeling himself for another long night. A pain-filled scream made Artie break into a careful run; he did not dare to break out full speed and spill the water. After a few moments, Artie burst into the ranch, and crossed the parlor to the stairs that led to the bedrooms. The air inside was not much better. It was also hot and stuffy. The interior of the ranch smelled with the stink of rotting flesh, death, and decay. Upstairs it was a little better, though. Upstairs the hall window was open, and fresh (if not cool) air was sucked in, sweeping out through the stairs.
"There is a dead man downstairs," Artie's brain informed him as he stood before the master bedroom, gathering his breath. "You should have buried him long ago."
"There wasn't time," Artie argued back to himself. "Besides, I can't touch the man anyway. When Jim and I leave, I will set this place on fire and that will be his burial."
"Alright," his brain grumbling replied. "But don't you dare try to put food in your mouth; it won't go down."
"No worries there," Artie thought to himself quietly. "I doubt that I'll be feeling hungry any time soon."
When Artie had caught his breath, he stumbled through the bedroom door. He was bone tired. But as he looked at the figure lying in the bed before him, he knew that he had nothing to complain about.
James West lay on the bed, a victim of the Bubonic Plague that was ravaging his body. Known only in legend to Artemus, he none the less recognized the characteristic bleeding boils and the swollen glands that were written into every play in medieval history. Artie spent some moments listening to Jim's lungs for congestion, and was relieved to find none. Congestion meant that the disease had moved to a deadlier lung form, and rarely did anyone recover from that. As it was, Jim had already struggled three days with the worst of the symptoms, which was a miracle itself. Black Plague usually killed its victims within twenty-four hours.
Working quickly, muttering soothing words here and there, Artie took fresh cloths and soaked them in the water. He packed Jim's body with the cold compresses, noticing in dismay the heat that still radiated from his friend's body. Every once in a while, Jim would give out a shriek of pain. That was the creepiest sound of all to Artie, for if Jim was in his right mind, he never would have allowed himself to cry out at all. Jim was strong, Artie knew, but the Plague favored the strong. As night inched closer to the town, Artie felt his hope dwindling with the sun's rays. There was no way that Jim could cheat death this time.
Artie walked over to the hall window and took a deep breath, staring out into the dead town. He had no hope. Just as he was thinking that, the street below became brilliantly bright, and for a moment, Artie thought that the sun had suddenly fell into the town. The light grew stronger for a moment, then seemed to burst out into nothingness. Somewhat blinded, Artie rubbed his eyes and focused on the street below him. When his vision cleared, Artie jumped in surprise. On the street below, where the light had seemed to peak and explode, stood a man. And he was staring directly at Artie.
Rod Serling: Our story opens up at the end with one of the less-known subjects of western history, in one of the even lesser-known towns. The setting is perfect for the last act; an empty town, a case of the Black Plague, and the certain shadow of impending doom. The characters are even more impressive: a man who appears in a flash of light and two government men who specialize in the business of survival. The latter have courage; they faced death every day, and were never moved. But add the fact that the previous resident of this forgotten town (now lying dead in the parlor below) was a maniac bent on destroying the government with a vial of Plague collected over the years, you get a story that is stranger than reality itself. Such strange beginnings must have even stranger endings, endings only found in... the Twilight Zone.
Artie blinked several times at the figure below, unsure if it was someone real or if he was hallucinating. After what seemed like hours, the man broke his stare and headed for the main door to the ranch. Artie shook his head in disbelief as he heard the door creak open and click shut. Grabbing his rifle (Artie always felt more comfortable shooting a rifle than a pistol), Artie moved towards the door, determined to block out the intruder for his own safety.
Creak, creak, creak. Artie listened intently to the slow but steady footfalls on the stairs. Finally, the man rounded the landing and was now in Artie's sights. Swinging his rifle to his shoulder, Artie yelled out, "Stop right there!"
The man just reaching the top of the stairs stopped. Artie took a deep breath and continued on. "Look, I don't know who you are, but if you value your life you will leave now. Black Plague has infected this household, and if you've touched anything in this house at all you're probably contaminated. My advice is to get out of here, immediately wash, and stay away from people for six days or so. If you're not sick, then you've escaped and you can thank God for that."
The man cocked his head and looked Artie up and down. Artie had not been evaluated like that since the time he had tried to become a member of the high society league in high school. It made him feel uneasy; why would a man be sizing him up like that? Surely he did not mean to steal anything; there was nothing left to steal. The last thing of value (to a criminal, anyway) in the house was a vial of plague, and Jim broke that into pieces when the mad anarchist (the dead body Artie had yet to bury) flung it at Artie. Jim had intercepted the flying vial and had batted it down from the air. The result was the vial shattering into millions of pieces. Bits of plague infected glass had embedded themselves into the evil scientist and Jim. The scientist was now dead. Jim was well on his way.
Finally, the man spoke. "So, you're a doctor?" he asked conversationally.
Artemus rolled his eyes. "Look, I have no time to fool around with an idiot! Get out of here while you still can!"
The man actually did the opposite; he took the last step up and stood tall in the hallway. Now that they were on equal footing, Artie could get a clear picture of him. The man was younger than he had looked at first (but not too young). His mouth was creased with smile lines, but his eyes were hollowed in like someones who have been sick for a while or someone who has been in mourning. His eyes were an icy blue, and looked about as dead and as frosty as a fish pond in winter. He was lanky, yet a little smaller of a build than Artie. His clothes were very strange; made of a material Artie had never seen, and by his side he carried a large black briefcase. He set the briefcase down with a clunk; it was an open challenge to Artie.
Exasperated, Artie yelled out, "I WILL shoot you if I have to! If that's what it will take to get you out of here, I will do it!"
The man shook his head, almost bemused. His eyes were still very cold, however. "You won't shoot me, Mr. Gordon," the man stated.
Artie lowered the rifle a fraction. "Do I know you from somewhere?" Artie queried.
"You have never met me," the man said. "But I have met you before, in a way."
Artie frowned, confused. "How can that be possible?" he asked. "I have a very good memory for faces."
The man sighed. "Lower your gun," he said, "and I will explain all. Besides, I have some medicine here that could help your sick friend."
Artie's eyes lit up with hope, and he lowered his gun. "You're a doctor?" he questioned. "Well, why didn't you say so?" Then, after a moment, Artie's eyes narrowed. "Why did you think I was a doctor?"
The man bent over and picked up his black bag. "Aren't all learned men from this era doctors?" he asked.
Artie frowned. "What do you mean 'this era'? It's your era too."
The man grinned and walked towards Artie. "I'm afraid I'm just stopping through, as it were. Now, where's James West? I need to tend to him."
Artie wasn't sure if he was hallucinating the entire encounter with the stranger, but he had to admit that there was no better feeling when the man pulled out from his bag a syringe filled with some sort of medicine. He administered several different vials of fluid to Jim; many of them being labeled "antibiotic." Artie had no clue what an antibiotic was, but he had the feeling that the man knew what he was doing. Besides, why poison an already near-dead man? That made no logical sense.
Finally, the stranger was finished. "There," he stated officially. "He should be out of risk now."
Artie looked at the deathly still form lying somewhat rigid in the bed. "How do you know he is out of risk?" Artie asked.
"I gave him a pretty strong round of medicines," he explained. "Besides, he wasn't supposed to die. I had to be in the right place at the right time to save him. And I was."
Artie blinked, confused. "You know," he began after a moment, "I hate to be half a step behind in any conversation. Just what do you mean when you said 'he wasn't supposed to die.' We all will die one day; just we usually never know when we are going to die."
The man grinned humorlessly. "Well, good for you then," he stated. "I've know when hundreds of people are going to die. I've stepped in on some cases, and stayed back in others. Believe me, it is not pleasant having the job of maintaining the time-line."
"What?" Artie said, completely confused.
The man sneered at Artie. "Look, I don't think you can understand."
Artie felt his temper begin to rise. "Try me," he almost growled.
The man shrugged. "I belong to the International Time Travelers," he began. "You see, I am from the future. We have found a way to time travel, back when I'm from. And things were going pretty good too; people could watch history unfold before their very eyes! There was so much learning, so many things to see and places to visit. People got careless. Little things they did without thinking became big events later on. Soon, a squad was needed to set things back in order. Thus, the ITT was born."
"International Time Travelers," Artie affirmed.
The man nodded. "Our job was to set everything straight. You see, when people began messing with the timeline, everything changed. There became two times, if you can believe it. One true linear time, and one fake time. They overlapped constantly, everything was a mess. One day, an entire race of people would disappear, and then the next day, they were back. Some people's we could never find. To this day we have no idea what happened to the Maya."
Artie nodded. "I think I see what you mean, though vaguely."
The time traveler looked at Artie sideways. "You don't seem so surprised about all this," he stated.
Artie shook his head. "Time travel is not as far fetched as you would think," Artie explained. "You see, I've done it before. A couple of times, in fact. But every time I was stuck in another time, we were able to get the time-line back in order."
"Ah!" the Traveler exclaimed. "You were in a time bubble! Actually, to be precise, that is what we are in now."
"What do you mean?" Artie asked.
"Look outside the window," the Traveler instructed.
Curious, Artie got out of his chair and walked into the hall where the window was. In amazement, Artie noticed that the sun had virtually stopped in its descent, hovering like a blazing firefly over the desert mountains. Every shadow was etched out in the town perfectly, as if it was nothing more than a picture. This was a bit more than Artie was able to take at the moment, and he stumbled back into the windowless bedroom and collapsed back into his chair.
"Neat, huh," the Traveler asked. "You see, we had to find a way to stop time around us in order to protect us. I was not born yet, and so here I physically cannot exist. Therefore, we stop time by weaving a huge 'bubble' of sorts. The illusion of 'real time' is kept inside the bubble, and I can watch events unfold in history; even change things if necessary. Once the change is established, I leave, and the bubble collapses. Time continues onward, but the changes I made stick. It's all much more technical and complicated than that, but I put it into layman's terms that you could understand."
Artie was too amazed to be annoyed by the man's condescending nature. There were so many questions to ask, yet ironically Artie felt he didn't have enough time to address them all. Finally, choosing one, he blurted out, "So, why come back to save Jim? Was he not supposed to die?"
"The 'evil scientist' as you call the dead man adorning your parlor was actually a man from our time. He wanted to destroy the United States as we know it. Your partner intervened before he could complete his plot. Unfortunately, your partner does something much greater for the good of mankind later, and his death wrought havoc with our reality. I was sent to save him. It was necessary for me to appear after he had been infected, because if I appeared before the scientist would have either completed his plot or survived. Timing was of the utmost importance."
Artie nodded in understanding. "What more important work does Jim do for the United States?" Artie asked, a little hesitantly.
The Traveler grinned. "Now, Mr. Gordon, it'd be no fair if I told you. No one is ever told their own future (for you are involved in Jim's work too), not even me! And I'd have the ability to find out! If I did though, I'd get fired. Although, I fully expect to be fired after today, though I doubt they'd be able to find me."
This last sentence was muttered and almost inaudible, save for the fact that Artie had sensitive hearing. A look of intense emotional pain flashed through the Traveler's face, and Artie began feeling uneasy again. Endeavoring to change the subject, Artie glanced at the man's "medical bag."
"So," Artie said after a moment. "In the future, they found a cure for plague?"
The Traveler was still far away in his own thoughts. "They have a cure for almost any disease you can think of," he stated automatically. "A cure for everything... except for a broken heart."
Artie looked at the Traveler, his unease growing. The Traveler bent over his bag and pulled out a photograph. It was a better picture than Artie had ever seen, and it was in full color too! In fact, the young woman and child in the picture looked as though they could almost move.
"Your wife and child?" Artie asked.
"Yes," the man sighed, "they were. They were killed."
Artie cringed. "I'm sorry," he said.
The Traveler's eyes flashed with anger. "What do you know what it is to be sorry?" he growled. "How would you know what it is like to come home from work to a dark house because some idiot drunk driver hit your wife and kid while they were on their way home from school! How could you possibly understand... no, you cannot understand. You don't even have a clue of what I'm saying means."
Artie shook his head gently. "No, but I know what it is like to lose someone. I lost plenty of friends in the war."
"That's different," the man choked out. "In war, you can have revenge. In war, you can fire back. But in my time... this man only got five years in prison. Five years... for the life of both my wife and child. He had an excellent attorney."
The Traveler then sat for a moment, his eyes flickering with rage. Finally, though, he cooled down. "I'm sorry; you see, I just lost them a few weeks ago. In fact, I had to beg to get this job. I told the committee that helping save another life would help my own healing. I have a spotless record; they let me go."
Artie nodded, feeling miserable for the man and still uneasy himself. "Did it help?" he asked gently.
The Traveler slipped his family's photo back into the bag and chuckled huskily. "I didn't come here for Mr. West," he said. Then, he looked at Artie with hollow, cold eyes. "I came here for you."
"Me?" Artie said, wishing he hadn't have left his rifle across the room. "What? I thought..."
"You thought wrong," the Traveler sneered. "Artemus Gordon, in your future you will marry a beautiful woman and will have one son and two daughters. They will have their children, and those children will have theirs. Your descendants will be great scientists and artists, and will build an empire of wealth! You are the direct patriarch of a family of overachievers that will change the course of history as we know it! And among all these glowing characters in your families, there is one man who distinguishes himself not with advancement, but with the death of a woman and child."
The Traveler stood up and pointed an accusing finger towards Artie. "You! Your line! A direct descendant of yours killed off my wife and child, the apples of my eyes and my future hope! It is you I hate. At first, I thought of taking my chances striking back at the killer himself. But he was always too well guarded, always protected. And I was too well watched. So, I did my research. I looked for his lineage. I examined his descendants for an ancestor I could exterminate, so he would not be around to destroy my wife and child. I traced him back to the western days, back to you. No farther."
"And then this assignment fell into my lap; the perfect opportunity, as if fate designed it specifically for me. I grabbed at the chance, and the stupid fools above me saw it as a healing opportunity. Well, I've done my duty for them. It is now time to do my own duty. Mr. Gordon, I challenge you to a duel!"
Artie didn't know what to say. He was looking at the Traveler before him with such sorrow in his eyes, for Artie well understood the pain of loosing family much more than the Traveler knew. But Artie also knew that nothing he could say would change the mind of this man; he was too far gone in grief. Still, he had to try saying something.
As Artie opened his mouth to speak, however, the Traveler grabbed Jim's pistol. In one fluid motion he aimed the deadly weapon at Jim's chest and said, "Nothing you can say will make a difference, Mr. Gordon. Now, you either walk towards those stairs, or your friend Mr. West dies in your place."
Artie stood, his hands up in defeat. He wished he had some gadgetry on him; he might have found a way to wrestle the pistol away from the demented man. But, as Artie had been concerned on keeping Jim alive, he hadn't restocked on his pyrotechnic supplies. So, he slowly stepped out of the room and walked down the hall. The Traveler followed, both Artie's and Jim's gun belts in hand. He was determined to have an old fashioned shootout on the street below.
The dusty street made an eerie backdrop for the duel to come. The sun hung unnaturally still, casting crimson beams on everything. All the buildings glowed red in the dusk, and the heat was almost stifling. No wind penetrated the "bubble"; everything was silent as a grave.
The Traveler had strapped on Jim's black gun belt and had thrown Artie his own. Artie silently fastened it around his waist, feeling with every ounce of his being that he ought to do something to stop this. But every time he tried to say a word, the Traveler aimed the gun. Still, Artie took his time about getting ready, hoping to delay the final act as long as possible. Finally, though, there was nothing left to strap on or adjust, and the Traveler stood at the far side of the street.
The two faced each other unwaveringly, though on the inside Artie cringed. Artie felt uncomfortable about the shootout for a number of reasons; the first of which was being fired upon by Jim's own pistol (which he knew was kept in remarkable shape, and easily fired). The other reasons were tied up into one category; Artie felt terribly sorry for the man before him.
"Look," Artie shouted to the Traveler. "This is your last chance. You can still make things right if you choose; you can still go back!"
"GO BACK!" the Traveler screamed. "Go back to an empty house, an empty life? NO! Now, draw!"
Artie closed his eyes in defeat and sorrow. He then opened them and stood tall. "To make it fair, how about to the count of three?" he suggested.
"Fine," the Traveler agreed.
Artie took a deep breath and steadied his hands. "One. Two."
At the count of two, a strange thing happened. The Traveler's hand moved like lightning to Jim's gun and drew it with deadly precision. Artie saw the movement and drew his own weapon, hopelessly behind. The Traveler raised it up and fired without hesitation.
But here, Providence stepped in. Jim's gun jammed. Artie's own weapon continued on its upward path, and a few seconds later Artie also fired. It was a fast reflex action; Artie couldn't have stopped the ascent of the gun even if he had wanted to. The bullet screamed through the air and embedded itself squarely into the chest of Artie's opponent.
After the moment was over, Artie dropped his weapon and raced to the figure lying on the dusty street. The Traveler lifted up his head and glared at Artie with fury blazing out of his eyes. "It wasn't supposed to work that way," he snarled. "The gun wasn't supposed to jam; I was supposed to kill you!"
Artie winced as the Traveler howled out in pain. "Look," Artie said sadly as the Traveler began to fade, "is there anything I can do for you? Anyone I can... contact?"
The Traveler glared at Artie with pain-filled eyes. "You can die," he gurgled. "That's all you can do for me." Then, the Traveler closed his eyes. He breathed his last, and a blinding light split like a seam across the sky. Artie had to close his eyes because of the brightness, and when he opened them again, the sun was half-set.
Artie grimly picked up the body of the Traveler from the street and carried it up the hill the short distance to the ranch. By the time he got to the front steps of the porch, the sun had set, and the uncertain shadows of dusk had left the town.
There was not much left to tell. Artie buried the Traveler the next day and marked his grave with a marker that has long since faded away. Jim was on the mend every day, and when he was able to be moved Artie set up a temporary home in the general store and burned down the ranch house, effectively disposing of the plague and what was left of the mad scientist. Jeremy Pike was sent to find and assist the two agents, and after a long and somewhat incomprehensible mission report Artie and Jim were settled back on the train.
Artie hadn't told Jim exactly what had happened during the days he was ill, and Jim suspected there was something more that was bugging his friend. He respected Artie's privacy, however, and Artie never brought the subject up. There was just one incidence that happened a few weeks later that made Jim wonder if his friend was really all right.
Artie was sitting in the parlor car, pondering (even for Artie) an absurdly long time. When Jim asked him what was on his mind, Artie responded by asking, "Jim, do you think that fathers should be punished for their son's doings?"
Jim sat across from him, unsure of what to say. Finally, Jim reasoned out, "I think sometimes fathers can be responsible for the way their sons turn out. Yet, when it boils down to it, each person has a will of their own. The Good Book says that no father should be punished for the sins of his sons, and no sons should be punished for the sins of their father. I think that holds true, don't you?"
Artie smiled faintly at Jim, though he still looked unconvinced. "I suppose it does," he replied, unsure. Jim, satisfied the conversation had been brought to a close, patted his friend on the shoulder and went off in search for coffee. But Artie took a long look out the train window, his eyes on the setting sun. "I suppose it does," he said again softly.
Rod Serling: In the end, what are we? Merely flesh and bone individuals, whose lives pass like vapors under the heat of time. Yet we are responsible for these lives, and must hold an account of everything we do before God, whether good or evil. This is the ultimate rule of time, a rule that can certainly be bent, but never broken, even in the Twilight Zone.